Dig Baton Rouge

Statesmen & Snollygosters

By Nick BeJeaux

The catastrophe in Ferguson, Mo. has brought our country’s struggle with an unreconciled racial divide to the forefront yet again. But, though important, closing this gap is one of many problems made apparent by the tragic death of Michael Brown and hundreds of others over the years at the hands of police.

Before going any further, it is important to make clear that this is not an anti-police rant; but it sure as hell scrutinizes how they handle “dangerous” or non compliant individuals and how that behavior is encouraged by stupid government decisions.

The long and short of the problem is that by and large police have not been trained how to defend themselves without lethal force. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like anyone is interested in funding that sort of training. In fact, it’s the opposite. Since 1990, the federal government of the United States has been arming state police forces for war. That isn’t a dramatic statement; why else would Tangipahoa Parish have a $700,000 landmine-resistant vehicle? How else could the East Baton Rouge Parish PD afford its arsenal of assault rifles?  Thanks to the 1033 clause of the National Defense Authorization Act passed by the 101st Congress, state police agencies receive surplus military equipment free of charge.

This policy was enacted to ease a bloated military and address a growing drug/gang problem in the U.S., but not to suppress upset, though non-violent, citizens. Sadly, that’s exactly what’s going on, and the results have been disastrous. When you arm a police force with military equipment, you turn a peace-keeping agency into an occupying force, and you turn citizens into insurgents. Fun fact: tear gas is banned in international warfare, but domestic police readily use it against the people they are sworn to serve and protect.

Instead of batons, rubber bullets, actual bullets, tasers, tear gas, and flashbangs, we should instead equip our police with knowledge of martial arts and other methods of nonviolent self-defense. Think the idea is silly? Last year police forces in British police – which are trained in hand-to-hand defense – fired their guns a grand total of three times and killed zero people last year. Compare that to U.S. police, who kill over 400 people per year on average. Of course, having the right training is only one factor among many – the big difference is the prevalence of guns.

According to the Small Arms Survey, and average of 88.8 people per 100 own guns in the U.S.. The country with the second highest prevalence is Norway with a measly 31.3 per 100. Unsurprisingly, the survey also shows that the U.S. dominates the globe in firearm homicide rankings. Maybe police would not need the firepower to level a small town if states did a better job regulating their purchase by the masses. That’s right, Cletus – I’m talking about gun control.

You can’t fault police for wanting additional firepower when Johnny Appleseed can buy an ACR, a Smith & Wesson six-shooter and a thousand rounds of ammo from his neighbor without so much as a background check.  You don’t need an assault rifle for hunting (if you contest that, then your shooting sucks) and you don’t need it for home defense. If that last statement makes you angry, then you aren’t helping the problem.

The argument over gun control has a tendency to polarize, and it will eventually come up again when people demand government cease militarizing police. Unfortunately, the very valid point that police are terrified of the firepower they are up against will be used as a point of contention between the left and the right. Liberals will argue for more regulations, conservatives for less – which actually indicates how flip-flopped our system is. The White House is taking a positive step by ordering a review of the programs that supply police with military surplus, but as I’ve said all along the problem here is not just the guns – it’s our relationships with each other.

The issues of over-armed police and criminals and ensuring that police officers are trained to effectively maintain peace are best tackled by individual communities. Community organizers and police right here in Baton Rouge must cooperate and more if our fair city is to avoid becoming another Ferguson, Mo. There is no reason for us to hold onto the same “us against them attitude” that lead to the violence in Missouri. We’re all neighbors in this city. and it’s up to all of us to keep it safe, happy, and prosperous even if that means – dare I say it – working together.

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