Sunday, April 19, 2015

A 20 Year Reflection: From Oklahoma City to Ferguson

Several fire-damaged automobiles located in front of a partially destroyed multi-story building.
"Oklahomacitybombing-DF-ST-98-01356" by Staff Sergeant Preston Chasteen - (F-3203-SPT-95-000023-XX-0198). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Twenty years ago today, Oklahoma City was ripped apart in the early morning by a homegrown terrorist. He killed 168 people and injured hundreds. Terrorism, by definition, has to have a political dimension. McVeigh was upset over the 1992 FBI standoff at Ruby Ridge and the 1993 Waco Siege and decided that bombing a federal building was the best response. They targeted the federal building in Oklahoma because it would have the least “civilian” causalities.
This caused a change in the FBI’s priorities when a shocked nation asked “Why? How did you not know?” The FBI began investigating domestic terrorism focusing on the dangers of the extreme right. Then came 9/11 and a shift to radical Islam, ignoring the far right. According to the ADL, right wing extremists are responsible for 120 different attacks or attempted attacks between 1995 and 2014.
Both 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing led to increased domestic policing power. Many articles have come out lately linking the increased militarization of American police to the increased public awareness of violence against blacks. As cited in the ACLU’s “War Comes Home” report, “Police militarization has been defined as ‘the process whereby civilian police increasingly draw from, and pattern themselves around, the tenets of militarism and the military model.’” Many of these large purchases have come from federal funds and driven by a surplus of military equipment. Some programs to mention are: Department of Defense’s 1033 Program, the Department of Homeland Security’s grants to local law enforcement agencies, and the Department of Justice’s Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program and these are fully investigated in the ACLU’s report, all of which have little oversight besides a simple request to a state coordinator.

A further example is the MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle. It looks like this:

These are the same type of vehicles that the US military uses in Iraq and Afghanistan. And police in America say they need them for “public safety.” These vehicles have been used in protests/riots in Ferguson, MO to parades where Santa throws candy from the vehicles. “Those vehicles have been used to transport citizens, officers and equipment when the roads are closed due to snow, flooding and severe weather,” Andy Skoogman of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association said.
The use of vehicles of war coincides with the increased use of SWAT teams, as documented by the ACLU’s report, to serve search warrants rather than respond to emergency situations such as hostage situations. In a country where there are more guns than people, the police are right to be cautious that every encounter could turn deadly for them, but does Florida really need “7 mine-resistant vehicles, 36 grenade launchers and more than 7,540 rifles” or  Tennessee “31 mine-resistant vehicles and seven grenade launchers”?
This is the question asked by the White House recently. While the report did make the point that most of the “military equipment” that is transferred from feds to locals is routine office stuff, it also came up with a series of recommendations to its various departments to increase oversight. Further, Obama asked his administration to develop an executive order due to him this month containing concrete reforms.
The increasing militarization of domestic police forces is something that every American should be interested in, for both domestic and foreign policies. When the US is advising other countries, or condemning them, on their use of “excessive” domestic force- critics will be able to use the oft abused phrase when relating to America- hypocrite- if policies are reformed.

A panoramic view of the memorial. In the center is a large stone structure shaped as a gate with "9:03" at the top. At the center of the gate is a large hole and through it a road can be seen. The Regency Towers building is visible on the right of the image in the background. The gate is reflecting in a pool of water in front of it, and grass and trees are visible to the left and right of the pool.
"Oklahoma City memorial" by Oklahoma_City_memorial.png: Mark Pellegrini derivative work: Diliff (talk) - Oklahoma_City_memorial.png. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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