AS A FORMER reserve police officer who has taught ethics at two police academies, I followed the news very closely after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by police officer Darren Wilson in nearby Ferguson, Mo. When I saw the military equipment of the St. Louis County Police—especially the sharpshooter on top of an armored vehicle aiming his rifle at the protesters—I said to my wife, “This may turn out to be very, very bad.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill argued in the midst of the protests that St. Louis County should “demilitarize the police response” in Ferguson, telling reporters, “The police response has been part of the problem.”
The militarization of police has been trending over the past few decades. When the thin blue line resembles an occupying force, it exacerbates racial tensions in neighborhoods and communities, making things worse for everyone, including the police.
Some communities are starting to push back. For instance, the city council of Davis, Calif., recently directed its police department to get rid of a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle (worth $700,000) that it had received free from the U.S. military’s surplus program.