Friday, August 29, 2014

Outfitting Smallville, USA

My hometown, populated by roughly 30,000 residents and nowhere near a major city, just approved the purchase of the same MRAP used in Ferguson's recent protests.
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. 
They policed. 
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. 
They led.
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.

1 comment:

  1. The thing is, small towns are urban. They have real problems, at least in this state. Ferguson and the places like it aren't small towns. They're suburbs, whether it's suburbs of a big city, a mid-sized or smaller city, or of a small town. All suburbs are exactly the same, no matter where in this country they are.

    The suburbs are mostly Republican but even the ones that aren't as just as elitist and secretly racist. They continue to grandstand towards the cities and other places, and also to the liberal suburban transplants now living in the cities. Both groups are constantly fighting each other, no matter what the issue, and always looking to wage a battle against the other.

    Ferguson is where black St. Louis meets white suburbia, and that is very frightening for such a red state. Ferguson represents the fact that their suburbs are not at all protected and are not impervious to the problems of the city the way they think they are. It contradicts their revisionist history of post-war suburbs as bastions of the wealthy. The same people always trying to fight each other over everything converged on Ferguson and used the situation to further their own message and agendas. Meanwhile, those of us in more normal areas who don't have much money and live around other people who don't have much money but happen to be a different ethnic group than ours are the ones who deal with the fallout.

    The only thing that's really changed since the days of the Civil Rights era is that the people who originally fought against it in the cities are now entrenched in the suburbs. This is their "last frontier". They can't flee anywhere else.