Across the country, heavily-armed SWAT teams are raiding people’s homes in the middle of the night, often just to search for drugs. It should enrage us that people have needlessly died during these raids, that pets have been shot, and that homes have been ravaged.
Excessive police militarization is a nationwide trend, and the time has come to deescalate. Our neighborhoods are not warzones, and police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies. Any yet, every year, billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment flows from the federal government to state and local police departments – departments that then use these wartime weapons in everyday policing, especially to fight the wasteful and failed drug war, which has unfairly targeted people of color.
As a new report from the ACLU makes clear, American police to need to remember that they are supposed to protect and serve our communities, not wage war on the people who live in them.
• Unnecessary Tragedy
o It’s not uncommon for SWAT teams to brutalize bystanders in their search for a suspect. One family in Atlanta, profiled in the report, was woken up in the middle of the night when officers burst into their home and threw a flashbang grenade into the playpen where a toddler was sleeping.
• War without Public Support
o Nearly 80% of the SWAT raids the ACLU studied were conducted to serve search warrants, usually in drug cases. With public support for the War on Drugs at an all-time low, police are using hyper-aggressive, wartime tools and tactics to fight a war that has lost its public mandate.
• Disparate Impact on Communities of Color
o It is widely known that policing tactics across the country often unfairly target communities of color. According to our investigation, the use of paramilitary weapons and tactics appears to be no different. For instance, the drug-related SWAT raids we studied were more likely to impact people of color than whites, though all people use drugs in roughly the same rates.
• To Serve and Protect, Not to Raid and Ravage
o Not every situation requires 20 heavily-armed SWAT officers and an armored personnel carrier. And yet, we collected reports of full deployments to homes where no contraband was found, where there was no clear reason for thinking the people inside would be armed or awake, and where children and the elderly were present.
• It doesn’t have to be this way.
o It’s not too late to undo this trend. We need to ensure that hyper-aggressive tools and tactics are only used in situations where they are truly necessary to protect people. It’s also time to push for greater transparency and ensure that the federal government is not incentivizing the militarization of our state and local police.
The ACLU of Kentucky is actively investigating the extent of police militarization within various departments across the Commonwealth, including the Paducah Police Department that obtained a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle, or “MRAP” earlier this year.
Help us remind police that they should be protecting our communities, not invading them. Take action here to urge states to put needed restrictions on the use of SWAT teams.