Law enforcement increasingly intolerant of dissent

August 29, 2014

"It's very clear that when people get this gear they tend to want to use it," says Joy Rohde in the August 28 Policy Points video, "When the police look like soldiers." Rohde argues that militarized police departments lead to violent confrontations with protesters and that, when this happens, "we lose space for dissenters and protesters to engage in the democratic process."

Rohde defines militarized police as the police we've seen on the nightly news in Ferguson, "police who are acting like and who look like soldiers rather than officers of the peace." The roots of police militarization, Rohde explains, are in the 1033 program, an arm of the Defense Department set up in 1977 to provide military equipment, among other supplies, to police departments.

Originally part of the War on Drugs, this program has led to militarization of police departments outside of drug enforcement contexts, setting the stage for police violence during the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999, during Occupy Wall Street in 2011, and now during the protests in Ferguson. Rohde calls for the end of the 1033 program, but argues that "we need a much more thorough-going, long-term engagement, with how police perceive protests, how police perceive dissent."

Joy Rohde is an assistant professor of public policy at the Ford School and the author of Armed with Expertise: The Militarization of American Social Science Research during the Cold War (Cornell University Press, 2013).

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