The militaristic response by the police to the rebellion in Ferguson showed the country and the world something all too familiar to poor and working class people – that the police are heavily armed and ready to use brutal force to put people down. The police are often represented as the good guys who only go after bad criminals who deserve any violence the police inflict on them. But during periods of social unrest the true nature of the police is revealed for all to see – they are an armed force serving the interests of those that rule this society. And today they are armed to the teeth.
Ever since 1990, a Department of Defense program (known as 1033) has been used to direct millions of dollars worth of military equipment to state and local police departments. This program started out giving away about one million dollars per year worth of equipment in 1990, but today it is over $450 million per year – and increasing every year. In addition, after the 9/11 attacks, between 2002 and 2011, the Department of Homeland Security distributed over $35 billion to state and local police forces throughout the U.S. Together these programs have equipped the police with state of the art killing machines, including grenade launchers, armed helicopters, machine guns, tanks, drones, explosive robots, full body armor and more.
Much of this new equipment has been used by growing SWAT teams. In 1980 SWAT teams across the U.S. were deployed only 3,000 times. Today there are over 50,000 deployments of SWAT teams per year – an increase of 1700 percent. Often they have been used to go after non-violent suspects, used to break up illegal poker games, a bar suspected of serving under-age drinkers, barber shops for operating without a license, and even used in raids on organized cockfights, once rolling a tank into the yard killing 100 birds. Even as violent crime rates have fallen in the U.S., the militarization of the police has only kept increasing.
The police are the ultimate line of defense for those who own the wealth of this society. Poverty, racism, fear, legal threats, the courts – when these are not enough to keep working people down, when we still find the strength and confidence to organize our own forces, then the role of the police is shown as clear as day.
There is a reason the militarization of the police is continuously increasing. No matter how much they train, the working class will always outnumber them.