In 2014, tanks rolled down the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, USA, flanked by Robocops clutching oversized weapons. The police wanted to end the protests against the shooting of black teenager Michael Brown. But why did they act like an army? And how did they get those weapons? The militarisation of the police became front-page news. Authorities scrambled to respond and called into question the US government’s program that distributes military hardware to local police forces. President Obama promised to look into it and asked that .50 caliber guns and weaponised aircraft be cut from the long list of available weaponry. Trump rescinded that directive last September.
But the militarisation of the police goes deeper than any single government program. Defense and security industries are powerful players in policing circles, influencing police strategy, including the methods of controlling protest. Since the late 1990s, police have used pepper spray, barricades, riot control helmets, shields, stun grenades, tasers and sound cannons against many protesters. Business is booming.
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