Schools need military-grade equipment and weapons?
School police departments across the US have taken advantage of free military surplus gear, stocking up on mine-resistant armored vehicles, grenade launchers and scores of machine guns, as Stephen Colbert reports above.
The Los Angeles Unified School District and other school districts around the country have been receiving military-grade weapons through the federal Department of Defense’s 1033 program, reported Rolling Stone magazine.
The program, which authorizes the transfer of excess Defense materials to federal, state and local agencies for law enforcement purposes, gained notoriety after protests in Ferguson, Missouri were met with a hyper-militarized response by the police.
According to the Washington Post, several groups including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund sent a letter to the Department of Defense asking them to stop distributing weapons to school law enforcement agencies.
Compiling data from the Defense Logistics Agency and a number of media reports, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Texas Appleseed paints a disturbing picture of the program’s reach into K-12 schools.
At least five school districts in Texas have been outfitted with materials through the program, including one with a SWAT team; at least five districts in California, with both San Diego and Los Angeles receiving Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs); as well as a number of other states including Utah, Georgia, Florida, Kansas, Michigan and Nevada that received materials ranging from blankets and laptops to assault rifles.
For example, Pinellas County School police is the only K-12 district in Florida to receive surplus military tactical equipment. It received two armored
trucks, two MRAPs and 22 M16 automatic rifles.
Why? No one knows for sure.
It also goes beyond the K-12 level at schools. Colleges are also recipients of surplus weapons.
Florida International University received an MRAP and 49 M16 rifles. The University of North Florida got eleven M16s. The University of Central Florida also received eleven M16s and a grenade launcher that was converted to fire tear gas. A UCF spokesman said the guns were used in an incident last year when school police officers had to confront a heavily armed student.
“In terms of a clear national picture of what kind of military equipment is going to K-12 schools through the 1033 program, we don’t have a 100 percent transparent picture,” says Janel George, education policy counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. That lack of transparency is one reason the Legal Defense Fund and Texas Appleseed are asking the DLA to end the 1033 program’s relationship with school districts and school police departments.
George also emphasizes that excessive force against students by school police is already far too common, with many school officers armed with weapons like tasers and pepper-spray.
“The concern is not only the potential harm when you add in military-grade weaponry – we’re talking about M16s, AR 15s and grenade launchers. It’s also, how does this exacerbate existing school climates that are already tense? And how does that contribute to the criminalization of youth of color in particular?” George said.
It’s a new arms race in America. Pogo was right: we have met the enemy– and it is us.
How did we go from Mayberry to martial law so fast– with the transfer of military surplus equipment to America’s communities? This educational poster explains how it happened in a quick nutshell.
by Skippy Massey
This post originally appeared at the Humboldt Sentinel. Reprinted with permission.
Photo: AP/Mike Groll