The events in Ferguson, Mo. have come at us in waves, from the first Facebook campaign — where the story gained enough traction to bring in the national press — to the initial protest and riots, then the pause before the dam burst again this week.
As of this writing, the National Guard has been called in and US Attorney General Eric Holder will lead the investigation into the shooting of Michael Brown, the unarmed 17-year-old shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer.
There’s a lot to unpack here: eerie similarities to the violent protests of the 1960s, the attention social media brought to the case, the rumored return of the Molotov cocktail as a political statement.
But the overriding theme here is the ongoing war between law enforcement and young black men. It’s been raging for decades, the systematic arrest and incarceration of young black men, a culling from each generation, with facilities to process and house them all, and an army to gather them up.
And this fighting force of local law-enforcement officers has started to look a lot more like an occupying army. That’s because the branches of the US military which have been at war for more than a decade have been sending surplus equipment to police forces around the country since 1990.
Body armor. Night scopes and sniper rifles. Tear gas. Grenade launchers.
According to a report in the New York Times published over the weekend, state and local law-enforcement agencies in Guilford County have gotten 118 assault rifles from military surplus. Forsyth County has gotten two armored vehicles.[pullquote]The surplus is the result of our ongoing military actions in the Middle East, which have been going on longer than any other war in US history — besides the one on young black men[/pullquote]
Among the bounty received by St. Louis County, Ferguson’s county, were three military helicopters.
Weapons like this were not meant to gather dust in some storeroom forever. Sooner or later, someone’s going to want to deploy the grenade launcher.
The surplus is the result of our ongoing military actions in the Middle East, which have been going on longer than any other war in US history — besides the one on young black men.
The fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq owes a debt to the “unwarranted influence” of the military-industrial complex that the former general President Dwight Eisenhower warned us about in 1961.
But not even Ike thought we’d be turning these weapons against ourselves.