The Minnesota Attorney General is the state’s top law enforcement officer. I ran for this office in part because domestic militarization of police forces kills and traumatizes countless Americans every year through the abusive and unnecessary war on drugs. Many citizens are harmed through policies and practices in which the Attorney General has a hand. The District Court Trial and Appellate division of the Government Services section in the Attorney General’s office helps train law enforcement officers and prosecutors. In Minnesota, we also have an agency equipping our law enforcement agencies with militarized equipment:
As of 2015, more than $4.3bn worth of gear has been transferred since the program was created in 1997, according to the Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO).
Forced to address the issue at a Pentagon briefing, spokesman
[Rear] Admiral John Kirby said that while the government made such equipment available in a “useful” program, it was up to local agencies to decide how to use it. “I’m not going to inject the Pentagon into this discussion,” he said. “How this equipment is used to serve local citizens is up for local law enforcement agencies to speak to.” http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/14/ferguson-police-military-restraints-violence-weaponry-missouri
If the Pentagon is not going to put restraints on Minnesota Law Enforcement agencies when providing them with war gear, then it is up to the elected officials in Minnesota to come up with the proper procedures for law enforcement to follow when deciding what equipment to procure, how much to procure, and the when it should be used.
A crimefighter’s job on a police force is to keep the peace while preserving citizens’ constitutional rights. A warfighter in the armed forces is supposed to annihilate the enemy. Weapons transferred “From Warfighter to Crimefighter” make warfighters out of our crimefighters and citizens into enemy combatants. Minnesotans cannot afford to have our police become a standing army. Here are two of the programs which need oversight to make sure that does not happen:
The 1033 Surplus Equipment Program – This program allows Minnesota’s law enforcement agencies (LESa) to obtain FREE excess military weapons, vehicles, and other equipment. Over $25,000,000 worth of free equipment has been given to Minnesota LEAs to date.
The 1122 Federal Procurement Program – This program allows Minnesota’s law enforcement agencies to purchase items at the federal government price; to include vehicles, weapons, communications and electronic items, night vision devices, medical items, uniforms, body armor, and dog handling equipment to name a few.
To view some of the figures related to war gear received by Minnesota Counties via just one of these programs, check out this interactive map that was put together by the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/08/15/us/surplus-military-equipment-map.html
Even the “free” equipment carries hidden maintenance costs which are NOT “free,” we pay for the gear in national debt at interest, and Minnesotans are tired of their tax dollars being wasted on a domestic war machine.
While pretext for the procurement of war gear by local law enforcement agencies previously was mainly under the war on drugs, it has now shifted into the war on terror. This transition is highlighted in the notice on the Minnesota National Guard’s Counterdrug website which cites the fact that the programs are now under the purview of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM). http://www.minnesotanationalguard.org/counterdrug/equipment/
Do not be fooled. Minnesotans are not exempt from the ramp-up in the militarization of our police forces. Hennepin County, Minnesota and St. Louis County, Missouri have similar population sizes. Ferguson, Missouri is a small town of around 22,000 people.
The events in Ferguson, Missouri were shocking to say the least. For several nights/days, protesters reacted to the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown and have been demanding full accountability. On August 9, 2014, a Ferguson police officer shot Michael as the teen stood in the street with his hands in the air. The situation escalated as scattered property damage blended with peaceful protest and powerful weaponry was dispatched at the scene. Reporters have been arrested, citizens have been tear gassed, and rubber bullets have all been employed. Rev. Renita Lamkin, a Pastor at St. John AME Church in St. Louis, was shot by rubber bullets from high-powered police rifles. (pictured below)
In order to bring broader transparency to what is happening in Minnesota got the following information after making a Chapter 13 MNGDPA request:
When we received this information from the Department of Public Safety’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management offices I was floored by the sheer volume of armaments local law enforcement had received. Feel free to peruse the file for VERY specific information as to what is in the possession of your local police. Some of the war gear provided includes mine resistant vehicles, night vision goggles, helicopters, and grenade launchers. Even the University of Minnesota Police department received six M16A1 5.56mm and two M14 7.62mm rifles. What has become apparent is that our police forces *have* become militarized under the pretext of the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. So where do we go from here?
First, our rights matter. Our human rights, enumerated in the US and Minnesota Constitutions, must be defended above all else. Our right to free speech and our freedom to assemble have been curtailed by time, place, and manner restrictions that aren’t reflective of human nature. You have a general right to distribute literature, hold signs, and collect petition signatures on sidewalks or in front of government buildings. However, it is also important to remember that within these constraints, you may need to obtain a permit to assemble, such as within city parks. Engaging in non-violent activities may result in arrest but should never be met with violent police actions.
Second, police response needs to be appropriate. If the police are fired upon by armed maniacs, and diffusion isn’t an option, a violent response is warranted. However, when people are peaceably protesting, or even when engaging in non-violent civil disobedience, they need to be treated with the utmost respect by law enforcement because they are engaging in arguably the most essential right to *our* free and open society. Threats of tear gas, rubber bullets, and brutality only serve to escalate the potential for violence. An “act first, ask questions later” mentality assures that violence will be the answer, especially when war gear is distributed extensively among our local police forces.
If having paperwork is a necessity to assemble, access to the paperwork should be provided in the field. We have the technology. Legislative moves to lift the time, place, and manner restrictions and also policies that promote lenience, discretion, conflict resolution, and education when police are interacting with protesters having to deal with these restrictive policies are all necessary.
The government needs to take this as seriously and stop the militarization of our police force. There is a disturbing trend in our nation’s foreign policy in which the executive branch circumvents Congress’ Constitutional authority to declare war. In Ferguson, warlike tactics with equipment designed for foreign wars have been used without an official act by the governor of the state. We do not need to wait to see a similar incident happen in Minnesota and have armored personnel carriers and high-powered rifles on Hennepin Avenue.
“The means of defense against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.” – James Madison, June, 1787, Philadelphia Address to the Constitutional Convention on the dangers of a standing army.
(Find two of the LESO’s promotional materials below)
Minnesota specific LESO advertisement:
National LESO advertisement: