Militarizing the police


Over the past few years, we have begun to witness a callousness towards human life develop among law enforcement personnel and agencies. When a police officer is killed in the line of duty, police will travel from far and wide to attend the funeral and celebrate the life of their fallen comrade. However, it is nothing to snuff out a life at the least provocation, resist of arrest or appearance of threat. This disparity in the value of life by law enforcement is telling of a greater societal ill: The lack of regard for human life, human dignity and respect -- as well as life in general.

I realize that it can be a difficult job for law enforcement. That some people really can present serious problems to deal with. I realize that there are many decent police officers, trying their utmost to serve and protect their communities. However, it is also evident that there may well be just as many (if not more) police personnel that are more of a threat to the average person than they are someone you can look to as a beacon of safety and help. It is heart-wrenching to think that it has developed to this in our society. I despair over it.

An African American man looks to the police for help -- but, is either shot or arrested for approaching the police in an anxious manner. I can think of two incidents on the national scene where this has occurred. This is unacceptable. Anyone should be able to look to the police for help and not think they have to behave or approach the police in a certain manner, that others of a different skin color or appearance don't have to -- just to receive help.

The current situation in Ferguson, Mo., is singular in the way it is playing out -- but, how it started is not that uncommon. Young African-American men (and others) are treated as criminals and with heavy-handed force (sometimes deadly) for nothing more than jay-walking. Rioting that has occurred there is a symptom of the heavy-handedness. What do you do when you feel you have nowhere to turn? Revolutions have been sparked in other nations over such feelings of helplessness. That even peaceful protesters have been confronted by riot police with military equipment and armaments, shot with rubber bullets and tear gas only adds insult to the injury of society. That a state senator was even tear-gassed is alarming. That police arrested reporters and even order cameras to be turned off is even more alarming. This smacks of a police state -- and that is not America.

There is so much more I have to say on this. We've seen this even in our own community of Brattleboro. The Robert Woodward case, as you well know. As a result of that very unfortunate incident, the citizenry demanded that the police employ less lethal tactics. So, they were issued stun guns. The first thing they did with their stun guns? They shocked a senior citizen couple, peacefully protesting who refused to move to allow some trees to be cut down. Now, this was absolutely ridiculous. Any thinking person would realize that, eventually, this couple would have left on their own -- or could have been talked to and reasoned with, not stunned. So, I view the overall problem being that the police are under misguided views about how to handle situations that arise. If it is true in Brattleboro where the police are well-meaning and accessible -- so, it is likely much more the case in other communities in the nation, where the police do not have a culture of goodwill towards the citizenry.

I do not have any detailed answers on how to address this, except to say that the military equipment and armaments need to be taken away from local law enforcement agencies. No, ifs, ands or buts on that. It needs to happen. Training needs to be upgraded, somehow, to make the skills and responses of police to be less lethal, yet more effective. And, there needs to be a national police/citizens dialogue that changes the current dynamics of negative views from both elements of each other.

Eric Reagan has lived in southern Vermont for 19 years. He is a designer, mask-maker and sculptor, working and living in downtown Brattleboro.


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