When I sat in on Monday night’s St. Albans City Council meeting, little did I know that a minor item buried in the agenda would prove to have significance well beyond the affairs of our little town.
That agenda item concerned approval of a $12,000. JAG (Justice Assistance) grant. The JAG program, administered through the Department of Justice, is intended to provide direct funding to communities so that they can address any one of many issues that fall under the DOJ purview.
The JAG Program, administered by BJA and authorized under Public Law 109-162 (see page 136), is the leading source of federal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions. The JAG Program provides states, tribes, and local governments with critical funding necessary to support a range of program areas including law enforcement, prosecution, indigent defense, courts, crime prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, planning, evaluation, technology improvement, and crime victim and witness initiatives.
The Council’s approval seemed to be just a formality, but a public reading was required and I came to abrupt attention at the words “tear gas and pepper spray!”
St. Albans intends to spend it’s $12,000., at least in part, on riot response gear!
One Council member actually inquired if the tear gas and pepper spray delivery weapons we already have are no longer usable! I don’t know whether he was kidding, but I suspect not.
The unsurprising answer is that the City police do not have such weaponry.
No one even questioned why a town with barely 5,000 residents and no major institutions needed riot gear. If we are to believe the laments, the population is rapidly aging and business is slow even at the Walmart. Who is going to turn out to riot in the streets? A bunch of disgruntled senior citizens??
When the opportunity for public comment was presented I said that I thought there must be better ways to use the money; that this was just a boondoggle for defense contractors; and that purchasing such equipment sends the wrong message about our City. I wanted to add the obvious: “If our police acquire this equipment; sooner or later, they’ll use it,” but decided not to.
The Council members listened in bored silence, then voted to accept the expenditure.
The next morning, all hell broke loose in Ferguson Missouri, as angry protests segued into looting.
The police, already implicated in the crime that unleashed what began as peaceful protests, reacted as if they were at war, breaking out their very own DOJ toys to escalate the situation to a whole new level of danger.
Now everyone is wondering what the hell has happened to local American police forces? Overreaction seems to be the order of the day, and it is difficult not to go back to that same old suspicion: “If they have it, they will use it.”
We saw that play out vividly in the adoption of Tasers.
Most of us were quite shocked when the first local police departments opted to acquire those cruel and unusual playthings; but it was just a matter of time before we’d grown accustomed to reading the news of another mentally disabled person or minor child stunned into submission.
Toys for the boys. “If they have it, they will use it.” And they have it: tear gas, pepper spray, riot gear, rubber bullets, armored cars, heavy artillery.
Defense industry lobbyists have gotten themselves a sweet little boondoggle in the JAG program.
Business is slow? No problem, fear of terrorism can always be parlayed into a full scale war with all the trimmin’s!
War winding down? No problem! Just make the Barney Fife’s an offer they can’t refuse.
Before long, we end up with a policing culture that resembles that of a third world dictatorship, and the panic and confusion only serves to bolster personal arms sales.
As someone observed quite a while back, when the U.S. begins to resemble a police state, the “terrorists,” whomever they may currently be, will have already won.
Looks like we’re almost there.