When the nation's attention turned to Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the police shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown and the unrest that followed, news footage showed a shockingly well-armed police force. How did cops in a midsized Midwestern city wind up with riot gear, camouflage fatigues, and armored vehicles that would look more at home in the mountain passes of Kandahar than the parking lot of a suburban McDonald's?
The Associated Press reports that St. Louis County-Ferguson is a majority-black suburb of St. Louis-received two Humvees and other gear as part of a program designed to funnel the Pentagon's surplus gear to deserving law enforcement agencies. The Justice Department likely footed the bill for the rubber bullets and tear gas.
But some of the most striking shots of the protest featured cops in military-style garb standing atop a BearCat-an armored truck popular with local police. The $360,000 price tag for that set of wheels was no problem, thanks to a grant from the Department of Homeland Security.
As tear gas drifts into the homes of peaceful citizens, a long-overdue debate is finally taking place in Washington about the appropriate role of federal dollars in the equipping of civilian police forces.