I've lived in Philadelphia for ten years and I've never seen the same militarized presence in Ferguson or a MRAP in person. When the city rioted in 2008 the police largely gained control with billy clubs and horses.
When Occupy Philly camped out their protest at City Hall, First Amendment rights were protected by police officers and leaders, many who likely disagreed with their message.
When I return occasionally to Harrisonburg, VA, I hear more and more from friends and family a kind of rhetoric that seems dangerously fascinated with the prospect that something bad could happen at any moment. They seem beat down. Fatigued.
"This is the world we live in now."
No, it's not.
Ferguson is one small town out of hundreds of thousands, but social media fuels the delusion that Harrisonburg, or any other small town, is next. People become ever willing to trade their civic sense of reason and healthy communities for a militarized police presence.
So why do small town residents seem to overwhelmingly live with a much higher level of fear than residents of Philadelphia or New York or Los Angeles? Are the bored? Is the prospect of imminent danger somehow morbidly exciting? Have residents of small, more conservative rural communities been duped by D-list politicians? Or are their small police forces truly ill-equipped and untrained in the event that something catastrophic does happen?
All are probably a little true, but in the case of the latter, the solution isn't outfitting any police force with weaponry and defense specifically designed for war. Police absolutely should have every resource at their disposal to serve and protect, but machine guns and tanks aren't designed to police. They're engineered to kill and defend against an onslaught of equally aggressive tactics.
Perhaps, despite the fact that small towns like Ferguson find their way to the national spotlight, these towns are largely left out of the national dialogue. CNN and FoxNews lecture and debate, but they don't engage. When small town residents find their town on MSNBC, the subject of a crisis by pundits offering little in the way of solutions that don't devolve into partisan bickering, they find themselves in uncharted territory. Faced with the unheard prospect of violence on the streets of Smallville, USA, residents view their fate as dire and embrace unreasonable militarization.
Excessively arming any police department goes against the very core of our police force and our justice system. Like in war, it assumes guilt, that every citizen is a criminal. We live in a nation vastly consisting of just and honorable citizens, Americans capable of policing their own behavior. When the government turns on that self governance, reasonable people become less reasonable. Assuming everyone on the other side of a machine gun or MRAP vehicle is a criminal, creates criminals.
The tactics used by the Ferguson Police Department have been put into question both politically and publicly. But militarization in the broader scope of hundreds of other small towns has been ignored because it isn't newsworthy. When that kind of ammunition is warranted, the National Guard exists for that exact scenario. When that kind of ammunition is given to our Men and Women in Blue, it makes every citizen an enemy.