The news: If you're following the events in Ferguson, you may be wondering why a group of suburban St. Louis police look like something out of "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare."
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The answer is simple and more than a little disturbing: The Pentagon is giving them weapons.
USA Today reports that the Ferguson police are part of a federal program called "1033." Established in the early 1990s, 1033 lets the U.S. government distribute "hundreds of millions of dollars of surplus military equipment" to "civilian police forces" across the country.
What does this mean? Instead of the traditional gun-and-badge combo, local cops look increasingly like they're ready to storm the beach at Normandy.
It's unclear what war they imagine they'll be waging anytime soon. But it's bad news: Their equipment ranges from handguns and automatic rifles to camouflage gear and armored vehicles, all of which they've prominently displayed at protests throughout the week.
In 2013 alone, USA Today reports the Pentagon transferred $449,309,003.71 worth of equipment to police departments nationwide. Cops have received $4.3 billion in ex-military swag since the program launched.
More: The Pentagon does not disclose what equipment it gives which departments. But it does share the county figures, and between 2012 and 2014, police forces in the same county as Ferguson received at least "advanced rifle sights and night vision equipment."
Michelle McCaskill of the Defense Logistics Fund tells USA Today that Ferguson received its latest transfer in November. That shipment included "two vehicles ... a trailer and a generator."
Background: While no one has explicitly confirmed that Pentagon equipment is being used in Ferguson, the militarization of police arms and tactics there is undeniable.
There's a clear and visible reason why media outlets are comfortable calling the city a "war zone" and comparing it to places like Egypt and Iraq:
Additional case in point: The Wire quotes an NBC interview where Washington Post reporter Radley Balko says, "The militarization itself is part of a larger trend ... a willingness or a policy among domestic police" to use "more force more often for, you know, petty offenses."
He adds: "It is a mentality that sees the people they are supposed to be serving not as citizens with rights but as potential threats."
Or as Ferguson police might say, "fucking animals."
Takeaway: That the murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown sparked protests is reasonable. That local police have responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, combat vehicles and the prominent display of military-grade assault rifles is not.
Fortunately, they won't be doing so much longer: Bloomberg reports Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is relieving St. Louis County law enforcement of their duties in Ferguson today.
But the bigger problem of police militarization isn't going away soon. And justice for Mike Brown and his family remains elusive.
h/t The Wire