An Eastern Kentucky University professor testified Tuesday in front of a Senate committee hearing on the sale of Department of Defense weapons and equipment to local police forces.
Peter Kraska, who chairs the Graduate Studies and Research, School of Justice Studies at the university's College of Justice & Safety, was invited by Senator Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma and Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, on militarized police force. Kraska discussed the purchase and use of the equipment during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing.
Questions about whether local and city law enforcement agencies mirrored those of the military surfaced after 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by Ferguson, MO police officer Darren Wilson Aug, 9. News of Brown's shooting sent shock waves through the nation and sparked a series of protests and riots that resulted in police draping themselves in military-like clothing and weaponry.
During his testimony Tuesday, Kraksa, who is the author of Militarizing The American Criminal Justice System: The Changing Roles of the Armed Forces, said the growth in militarizing police "has been steep and deep" as law enforcement agencies with SWAT teams have skyrocketed from the 30 percent in the 1980s to presently "well over 80 percent of departments, large and small."
"What we saw played out in the Ferguson protest was the application of a very common mindset, style of uniform, and appearance, and weaponry used every day in the homes of private residences during SWAT raids," he said, shortly after describing incidents when raids went wrong. "It is the poor and communities of color that are most impacted."
The hearing and the actions of police in Ferguson garnered the attention of Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a potential 2016 presidential candidate. Paul wrote an Op-ed on Time.com calling for the demilitarization of police agencies.
"We're horrified by seeing an unarmed man with his hands over his head being confronted by a man with a drawn assault weapon. We're horrified by images of tear gas being shot into the yards of people's personal homes who were protesting," he wrote. "One of the fundamental things about America is dissent, and the ability to have dissent. It needs to be peaceful. There needs to be repercussions for those who do not act in a peaceful way. But confronting those with armored personnel carriers is thoroughly un-American and for 150 years, we've had rules separating the military, keeping the military out of policing affairs. But you sort of obscure that separation if you allow the police to become the military."