Bayonets are 12-inch or longer steel knives that are attached to rifles. They are weapons of war, used exclusively to maim and kill.
Congress thinks we should be giving them to neighborhood cops.
I have only the deepest respect for the brave men and women who serve in our police and sheriffs departments. I cannot conceive the courage and sacrifice they exhibit every day to keep our communities safe. They have every right to demand the proper gear to protect themselves. However, tragedies like the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri show us the danger of giving to police departments unrestricted access to the entirety of the Pentagon's armory.
The civilian police force and the military have fundamentally different missions. The Military exists to battle and subdue foreign enemies, while the police force's mission is to serve and protect their neighbors. However, the distinct lines between the two are becoming blurred. Beat cops have been replaced by special ops.
The trend of militarization in our police departments began long before Michael Brown was even born. Social unrest in the 1960s, and the escalation of the war on drugs led to the creation and expansion of SWAT teams. The federal government has given billions of dollars worth of military equipment to civilian police forces to assist with these efforts.
There have been countless reports of small towns, towns with only a few thousand people, who have received MRAPS and M16s. While late-night comedians have been able to turn this surplus weapons deal, or '1033 Program' into fodder for their monologues, the reality is much darker.
However well-intentioned, this Department of Defense program has become too dangerous for American citizens. The police who receive dangerous weapons are not properly trained to use them, putting both themselves and civilians in greater danger. Trained military experts who watched the police force in Ferguson commented that it was clear they had not gone through basic training and that their actions only served to provoke the crowds.
There is also frightening evidence that once given to police departments, this military grade equipment is lost. Independent investigations have shown that nearly 200 state and local police departments have been suspended because they could not account for the weapons they received. Across the country, there are reports of missing M14 and M16 assault rifles, .45 caliber pistols, and even two Humvees. Police officers take these dangerous weapons home, trade them for different weapons, or even sell them for a profit. The result is that there are automatic weapons and armored vehicles that have simply disappeared from the system.
While I fully support giving our brave civil servants as much protection as possible, we must ask ourselves whether increased militarization is creating more safety or more violence. If you outfit police as soldiers their outlook changes. They cease to see the people in their communities as those they have vowed to protect and service, but rather as enemy combatants.
The flow of military grade weapons to local police departments is not the entirety of the problem. Both in Ferguson and across the country, there are serious cultural barriers that must be addressed in the way that police officers are trained to relate to the communities they serve. However, we cannot ignore the role this dangerous weaponry plays in the militarization of our police force.
Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have seen this problem and are taking steps to remedy it. Republican Senator Rand Paul joined a host of Democratic Senators to call for an end to the militarization of the police in a series of hearings that started yesterday. The House of Representatives found similar common ground in the Grayson amendment, which would end police departments' ability to receive military grade weapons.
However, many Representatives fear the political repercussions of such reforms. They are afraid that they may lose support from the military-industrial complex or that they will be painted as soft on crime.
My Representative, Congressman Dave Reichert, still uses his experience with the Sheriff's office as a campaign tactic and voted against the amendment. I can only assume this is why he voted to continue a program that allows small town police forces access to tanks and bayonets.
The safety of our communities must be our highest priority. However, this cannot mean that we outfit the cop on the corner like he's fighting behind enemy lines. Ferguson shows us just how dangerous it becomes for everyone when the local police force thinks of itself as an invading army. Police forces must be returned to their original purpose: to protect and serve.