Week 2: The Militarization of Policing

Militarism at home is inextricably linked to U.S. militarism abroad. 

Militarization is the process of applying a military ideology and tactics to areas outside the traditional roles of the military, like law enforcement, schools, and immigration. 

The United States is the single biggest military spender in the world. In 2019, the U.S. spent $730 billion on the military. That’s a staggering 53% of the federal discretionary budget – the more than $1 trillion budget that Congress sets each year. But when we add up all the militarized spending across the discretionary budget, militarization occupies an even greater piece of the pie.

The National Priorities Project’s militarized budget analysis adds other forms of militarized spending, like spending on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which houses ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and CBP (Customs and Border Protection), to the traditional military budget. According to this analysis, militarized spending amounted to $887.8 billion—almost ⅔ of federal discretionary spending in 2019. 

On top of massive amounts of militarized spending, government programs allow militarized agencies, like the military and immigration enforcement, to coordinate with local police. A Department of Defense program called the 1033 Program, for example, transfers heavy-duty weaponry and other equipment from the military to police at virtually no cost to local departments. Since the program’s inception in 1990, the value of military equipment sent to law enforcement agencies totaled more than $7.4 billion. 

This is just one of a suite of programs that militarizes our communities. Other government agencies—including the Department of Homeland Security, which houses ICE and CBP—provide support to local law enforcement through grants, excess equipment transfers, and direct coordination. A DHS program known as Operation Stonegarden, for example, provides money for local and state police to do border enforcement, which includes funds for police agencies to buy equipment for border-enforcement purposes. 

The human consequence of this type of support and direct coordination, takes the form of people being targeted and attacked through ICE raids in their communities, children being separated from their parents as a result of immigration detention or deportation, Black people being murdered by police officers, and the subsequent assault and arrest of people who protest those murders by law enforcement agencies. 

Black and brown communities bear the brunt of the consequence of such an astronomical budget. The collaboration between the U.S. military,  immigration agencies and local law enforcement departments disproportionately and deliberately harms immigrants, who often live in overpoliced neighborhoods. There are therefore two ways that members of these communities can get entrapped in this militarized web: 1. Being the target of police for suspicion of criminal activity and thus experiencing the double jeopardy of both criminal and immigration consequences. And/or 2. Being targeted by ICE/CBP in collaboration with police for a suspected immigration violation and facing detention in their homes, on the street, in schools and workplaces etc. Immigrants are often not afforded their constitutional right of due process. This  facilitates and streamlines the detention and deportation of Black and brown people without an attorney present. All branches of government, including the justice system  are therefore complicit in the acute harm police militarization has on immigrant communities. 

Using the National Priorities Project’s Trade-Off Tool, we’ve calculated that instead of going to surplus military equipment that would eventually end up on our street and harm members of immigrant communities. This $7.4 billion could have instead been spent on:

  • 246,000 hospital stays for COVID-19 patients, or
  • Hiring 91,000 Elementary School Teachers for one year, or
  • Creating 99,000 Clean Energy Jobs for one year

Instead of pouring hundreds of billions of dollars every year into militarization at home and abroad, we must defund militarism, reclaim our resources, and invest in the public services and institutions that keep strengthen our communities and keep us safe.

Call to Action:

The UndocuBlack Network (UBN)™️ is a multigenerational community of currently and formerly undocumented Black people fighting to not only survive, but thrive. UndocuBlack™️ fosters a strong and resilient community, serves as a fierce advocate, and facilitates access to resourcesall while promoting understanding about what it means to feel twice rejected, criminalized and targeted by the country Black and undocumented people call home. 

We do this by:

  • Developing the leadership of our members through tools, training and programming
  • Building power with and for our communities through advocacy, local organizing, and cultivating strategic alliances to advance policies that affect our daily lives.
  • Centering the humanity, dignity, and wellbeing of our communities in all aspects of our work. 

To get involved connect with us here: Undocublack

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