In 1971, psychologist Philip Zimbardo conducted a, now notorious, study known as The Stanford Prison Experiment. Zimbardo converted the basement of the Stanford University psychology building into a mock prison and commissioned 24 students to participate in the project. Half of the students were guard and the other half were prisoners. Prior to the study, all students underwent extensive psychological examinations to determine maturity, mental and psychical stability, and salubrious social lives. The experiments purpose was to explore “perceived power” and the situational conditions that created cruel and brutal behavior in prison guards; those meant to be protectors. Although the experiment was to last for two weeks, the study was closed after 6 days after the guards grew too aggressive and sadistic. Perhaps there is something to learn of the effects of the perceived power that comes with policing.
The re-appropriation of military gear has pervaded our media feed after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, and during the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, bringing police militarization to the public eye. The proliferation of military gear in law enforcement can be traced back to the creation of the 1033 program which transfers surplus military surplus gear to police departments around the country. Since the program’s creation in 1991, the Pentagon has transferred over $6 billion in surplus military gear to America’s law enforcement agencies including tribal police departments. Between 2006 and 2014, 80,000 assaults rifles, 200 grenade launchers, and 12,000 bayonets have been transferred to law enforcement agencies through the 1033 program. With increased access to this equipment comes the reconfiguration of the relationship between law enforcement and the public.
Epithets that actively animalize human beings is a popular tactic that compose the fabric of how agency and violence is distributed in a given society. “Bring it. You f***ing animals, bring it,” yelled one police officer in a video shot in Ferguson, Missouri. These epithets proliferate when sanctioned by the significance of military equipment normally found in overseas warzones. The articulation of a threat that evokes a domestic military response is patterned in the structure of dehumanization. A bill originally introduced in congress in 2014 is seeking to address this disturbing trend in policing.
The Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Bill was introduced by Georgia Rep. Henry “Hank” Johnson and—if signed into law—will ban the transfer of military weapons of war to law enforcement agencies. I call on Kansas representatives Pat Roberts, Jerry Moran, and Steve Watkins to support this bill as well as all members Congress. This bill is the first step in restoring justice with communities disproportionally affected by militarized police violence. A world in which we re-humanize our marginalized communities is a world without militarized policing. I urge everyone to contact their local congressional offices and speak with them about the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.
Marcus Red Shirt