Police in Minneapolis-St. Paul trained military-grade launchers and used flash bang and tear gas grenades on protesters at the 2008 Republican National Convention. The Richland County, South Carolina, Sheriff’s Department got an armored personnel carrier to help fight drug and gambling crime. And Ohio State University police acquired a 19-ton armored truck that can withstand mine blasts.
These are just a few examples of the growing militarization of police in America. It’s been ongoing for more than a decade, but rarely grabbed the nation’s attention until civil unrest erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, last August after the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager shot by a white police officer.
Now, eight months after the confrontations in Ferguson between heavily armed police and protesters, lawmakers in more than a half-dozen states are trying to rein in the militarization of their own police forces. They point to Ferguson and say they want to prevent similar highly weaponized responses in their states.
The legislative response — backed by Democrats and Republicans, in red states and blue states — is a reaction to what one sponsor of such a bill calls the “law enforcement-industrial complex,” a play on the “military-industrial complex” term first used by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“You get these pictures that just shock the conscience,” said Republican state Sen. Branden Petersen of Minnesota, referring to news footage of heavily armed police patrolling streets or carrying out sting operations. His bill would bar law enforcement in the state from accepting gear that’s “designed to primarily have a military purpose or offensive capability.”