Weapons of occupation are coming to cities and towns across the United States after the Department of Defense handed 165 military fighting vehicles formerly used in Iraq to local law enforcement as part of a military surplus program.
This transfer of military weaponry, reported in an Associated Press exclusive on Monday, will send mine resistant ambush protected vehicles, or MRAPs—which weigh 18 tons each and include gun turrets and bulletproof glass—to urban and rural areas, some of which don’t even have the physical infrastructure to support such heavy and large vehicles.
These are not the first armored military vehicles given to U.S. police departments. A little-known 1033 program, originating from the National Defense Authorization Act of 1997, allows the Department of Defense to donate what it considers surplus military equipment to police and sheriff departments, Michael Shank and Elizabeth Beavers wrote in The Guardian. A total of $4.2 billion in such equipment, including tanks and grenade launchers, has been donated so far.
Albany County, New York Sheriff Craig Apple said of the MRAP vehicle his department will be receiving, “It’s armored. It’s heavy. It’s intimidating. And it’s free,” the Associated Pressreports.
These giveaways, which have expanded in recent years, are on top of $34 billion in Homeland Security-backed federal grants given to local police departments since September 11th, 2001 to fight “terrorism.”
This is in addition to growing business between law enforcement, private defense contractors, and arms manufacturers that has facilitated the influx of military-grade weapons and vehicles—including drones—onto U.S. streets. Private sector and law enforcement collaboration is exemplified in annual weapons expos and SWAT team training Urban Shield, previously reported in Common Dreams.
Critics blast the MRAP giveaway as evidence of the heightening militarization of the police.
“The militarization of U.S. law enforcement is but an extension of the expanding police state,” said Lara Kiswani of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center in an interview with Common Dreams. “The U.S. not only exports and imports military equipment and weapons, but it also exchanges strategies and tactics of repression that have seeped deep into our communities.”
“From the gross devastation that the people in Iraq have suffered as a result of US wars and occupation, to oppressive torture tactics and violent military attacks of the apartheid state of Israel, to the growing militarization of communities in the U.S., the policies and interests are one in the same,” she added. “They are all a means of social, political and economic control at the expense of the poor, working class, immigrants, youth, and black and brown communities.”
This article originally appeared in CommonDreams.