Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Welcome to the Police State

Frederick County M20 now sitting at the Aberdeen Ordnance Museum storage lot. (via Wikimedia)

The shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9 sparked enormous controversy on multiple levels. As evidenced by yesterday’s arrest of thirty-five people who were trying to block Interstate 70 near the St. Louis airport to protest the fatal shooting of the unarmed teenager, the town remains in turmoil. Watching coverage of the Ferguson story as it unfolded last month, many were shocked by the behavior and appearance of the police force as it responded to citizens protesting the shooting. The presence of paramilitary, power-hungry arrogance among the officers brought an uncomfortable realization of the way local and state police forces have been transformed by a long-running program that puts weapons and tools usually reserved for the armed forces into the hands of so-called peace officers.

In 1990 the Department of Defense introduced the Excess Property Program (The 1033 Program), which authorized the Pentagon to transfer military weapons and gear to federal, state, and local police departments to wage the war on drugs. The program expanded in 1997 in anti-terrorism efforts. Since the program started, over $5.1 billion worth of military property has been disbursed among various law enforcement agencies for free. Yes, this means $5.1 billion has been spent on military production that is not used for the military. In fact, the majority of military production does not go to the military at all. To date, over 8,000 agencies participate in the 1033 Program.

After learning about this program, I have since found that my current town of residence has received $90,000 worth of military goods, including an armored vehicle and M16 automatic rifles. Why does this worry me, you ask? Well, I have a few reasons. To begin with, my small town of Frederick, located in rural Maryland, is hardly in need of a militarized police force. Frederick is a small and beautiful town with a thriving art scene that was included in a Top 100 Best Places to Live list last year (it also made CNN’s Best Small Town list). The Frederick County Sherriff’s Office, however, doesn’t have the best track record. Sheriff Chuck Jenkins has been accused of promoting racial profiling and encouraging more arrests based on race, has promoted the use of excessive force leading to the deaths of a black teen and a mentally handicapped man, and is loudly anti-immigration. Other Sherriff’s Office deputies have also been involved in misconduct including burglary, sexual abuse of a minor, and assault. As a longtime Frederick resident, I feel far more insecure knowing that the police force I have come to know has access to military standard weapons. Adding power to an already faulty system is just asking for trouble.

The DOD’s program is disturbing to say the least. We are giving law enforcement firepower they don’t need and may not be trained to use, vehicles that are nowhere near necessary in small-town America, and uniforms that implant fear and intimidation in people. Law enforcement officers are intended to protect and serve the people. We should feel safe and secure in their presence. I fear that we are moving away from a reliable and trustworthy force and moving towards a police state of fear, intimidation, and distrust, creating enemies rather than allies. Many can attest that this program is dangerous and senseless, and critics of the program aren’t simply scared citizens; they consist of military officials and politicians as well.

With news about this program coming out every day, more and more people are beginning to take a stand against it. Stop1033 is an organization established to put an end to the distribution of military-grade equipment and to close the power gap between law enforcement and civilians by restricting police personnel back to the role they are intended to play. Police officers are not soldiers.

Visit for more information about the program and ways you can help stop it. The unequal distribution of power in this country is becoming more and more apparent and now is the time to reverse it.

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