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Eric Stubben is a mechanical engineering junior and Mustang News conservative columnist. These views do not necessarily reflect the opinion or editorial coverage of Mustang News.
Sept. 9, 2008 was a day I’ll never forget.
As the door to the police car slammed shut and red and blue lights flickered in the window, I didn’t know what to feel. I rode across town, caught in the moment — yet embarrassed because the swarms of people on the sidewalks could see me.
When the car finally stopped, I stepped into a football stadium full of thousands of law enforcement officers, many of them in tears.
No, I wasn’t in trouble. I was mourning. We all were.
The death of local police deputy Anne Jackson one week earlier rocked the entire northwest community, from British Columbia down to Seattle. As I sat through the memorial on that abnormally hot summer day, I knew things wouldn’t be the same for a long time. I watched big, burly police officers break down in tears as they felt the pain of losing a coworker and friend.
Maybe it’s obvious by now, but I was raised as a police officer’s son. Through countless nights of late police calls and one horribly emotional memorial, I taught myself that police authority is to be respected and appreciated.
So when I watched the riots and looting in Ferguson, Missouri this summer, it wasn’t the police behavior that horrified me — it was the national news coverage. The overuse and inaccuracy of the term “militarization of police” was and is sickening.
No, Anne Jackson wouldn’t have been saved by some “militaristic” police behavior; she was killed in a psychotic shooting spree. But one thing I can guarantee is no family, friend or community should go through the pain of having one of their protectors gunned down. For that reason, any law or ideology preventing our law enforcement officers from having the best protection possible is unjustified.
The media attention given to the idea of barring police from attaining surplus military equipment is ludicrous. Selling used military equipment to police departments around the country via the Department of Defense 1033 program has a wide variety of benefits. Monetarily, the Department of Defense retains some sell-back value on the weapons and protection without having to scrap it. In fact, more than $5 billion worth of equipment has been sold to local authorities since the 1990s.
Local police departments also benefit monetarily through the 1033 program. Buying surplus military equipment allows authorities to spend less money than buying new equipment. And if you’re worried about these surplus goods being used against you, think again. Police officers have to go through what is known as a “use of force continuum” before being able to use lethal force. The continuum progresses from mere police presence to verbalization, hand control and non-lethal force before lethal force is even an option. Even then, significant, life-threatening danger must be present.
Ideologically, police knowing military tactics is also promising. Think back to the destruction and terror of 9/11. What if the terrorists who controlled and crashed the planes weren’t the only ones trying to do damage? Local police would be our first line of defense against a further attack. Would you want them protecting your life and your family with limited force because they were unable to obtain the force they needed at a reasonable price?
Think of the Boston Marathon bombing. After a day-long manhunt, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wasn’t caught by our military, but by a local police SWAT team. Without precise “militaristic” training, who knows how much damage could have been done.
It’s not unreasonable to think that our country could be attacked again one day. When or if that time comes, we will want all the homeland protection we can get.
Now, think back to Ferguson this summer. Was police behavior really that militaristic? Sure, the rights to peacefully assemble and speak freely are protected in the Bill of Rights, but last time I checked, looting and violence are not considered peaceful. The use of heavy armor and SWAT teams wasn’t to drive back protests but to control the significant amount of violence in the area.
Maybe I haven’t addressed the most important question yet: Why were we so wound up in the idea of police militarization, anyway? Of course, the killing of Michael Brown and ensuing riots consumed national news for weeks on end. Emotional cries from Brown’s family and members of the Ferguson community provided emotionally compelling arguments against police force.
Now, let’s be honest. We have no idea what happened in Ferguson. Eyewitness accounts conflict and tell stories with a 180-degree difference. There’s no video — no evidence of Brown doing anything wrong, but no evidence of his innocence. One day a judge will give a verdict, slam a gavel and America will move on — with or without a clear opinion of what happened that fateful day.
There are approximately 600,000 police officers in the United States. Of them, one made a major headline for a controversial use of lethal force. Yet at the same time, 100 police officers were killed in the line of duty last year. In the day and age of media scrutiny and negativity toward police officers, we tend to forget they live out a life-threatening job day in and day out. Let’s keep our police officers safe and our own lives safer.