Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) said Friday that the “militarization” of local law enforcement created a less safe environment for protesters in Ferguson, where the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by police had outraged the community over the past week.
“We’ve seen here a situation in which that militarization caused exactly the opposite reaction, in my view, as to what it normally should,” Nixon said in an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “Instead of bringing safety, it brought less safety in this situation because people felt diminished and felt controlled in their own community. I think this is a very clear example of how the proper force strength is important, and I do think we’ve seen a significant trend towards militarization which, if not used correctly with these forces, can have troublesome reactions.”
As TPM has pointed out, both the Ferguson and the St. Louis county police departments have received equipment from the U.S. military. Nixon acknowledged that law enforcement must be equipped to meet potential challenges from individuals with high-powered weapons, but said that need shouldn’t supersede police forces’ responsibility to their communities.
“Having MRAPs rolling up and down the middle of streets in the middle of protests is not going to calm people,” he said. “It’s not going to help get to the healing place where folks’ voices can be heard and safety managed.”
A number of elected officials, from Missouri’s own Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), sharply criticized the local police response to protesters in Ferguson and raised calls to “de-militarize the police.”
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) on Thursday also proposed legislation, the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, that would prevent the transfer of some miltary-grade equipment to local law enforcement agencies from the Department of Defense.