There's a lot of discussion taking place about the militarization of police amid protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the local police department's controversial shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Peaceful protests have been met with police tear-gassing, aiming rifles at protesters, and arrests, according to reports. It's gotten to the point that even U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says he's "deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles [by police] sends a conflicting message" in the community.
The militarization of police has been an issue the American Civil Liberties Union has reported on well before this incident, and just a few months ago, the organization reported on "massive military-grade weapons caches" at police departments in Arizona.
"The irony [in Holder's statement] is that the federal government over the past two decades has been supplying these police departments with military-grade equipment," ACLU of Arizona executive director Alessandra Soler tells New Times.
USA Today has reported that Ferguson's police force got all this military gear through the Department of Defense's 1033 program, which is the same program that has allowed Arizona police agencies to acquire 37,467 pieces of military equipment from the federal government.
The ACLU just released a report in June in which it tried to track these pieces of military equipment in a handful of states, including Arizona.
Through records requests, the ACLU found that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has acquired a .50-caliber machine gun, 120 assault rifles, five armored vehicles, and 10 helicopters, mostly through the 1033 program.
The ACLU also found the following at police departments and sheriff's offices around the state:
- 32 bomb suits
- 704 units of night vision equipment, e.g., night-vision goggles
- 1034 guns, of which 712 are rifles
- 42 forced entry tools, such as battering rams
- 830 units of surveillance and reconnaissance equipment
- 13,409 personal protective equipment (PPE) and/or uniforms
- 120 utility trucks
- 64 armored vehicles
- 4 GPS devices
- 17 helicopters
- 21,211 other types of military equipment
The ACLU's report seems especially relevant now, with the national news media focusing on what's going on in Ferguson.
This morning, the Reverend Jarrett Maupin II of Phoenix told us he wouldn't be surprised to see something similar happen locally, as he noted the outcry against police after Officer Richard Chrisman's shooting of Daniel Rodriguez in 2010.
"People should know Ferguson is literally on fire, but there are many cities -- including our own -- that are figuratively on fire and waiting for the next Michael Brown to be killed for things to boil over and for violence to erupt," Maupin said.
The ACLU's report, "War Comes Home," includes much more information about police militarization than what's mentioned above.
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