To: All U.S. Governors
Justice for Ferguson: Keep military-grade weapons off our streets
Stop the militarization of our neighborhoods and take executive action to reject military-grade weapons available through the Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) program.
Why is this important?
When the community of Ferguson, Missouri demanded answers in the death Michael Brown, an unarmed 18 year old killed by a police officer, they were met with force more appropriate for a war zone than a suburban town of 21,000 residents. Police officers unleashed tear gas, rubber bullets, and hovering helicopters on residents mourning their community’s tragedy.
Ferguson’s residents face racial discrimination in their community every day. 67% of Ferguson’s residents are black, just three police officers, one city council member, and no school board members are black. While the majority of people who live in the town are black, the people making decisions about who has value, and a say, in their community are white.
When hundreds of residents rallied to remember and to grieve, the everyday policing biases they faced quickly escalated. Police officers dressed like soldiers armed with military-grade weapons looked like they were there to lead a tactical assault -- not help a community in crisis cope with a tragic loss.
When weapons from the battlefield end up on our streets, no community is safe. Join us in calling on your Governor to opt-out of the militarization of our neighborhoods and take executive action rejecting military-grade weapons available through the Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) program.
These weapons shouldn’t be anywhere, much less our back yards. Why does Ferguson, a town of 21,000, have a police force with access to helicopters, rubber bullets, and tear gas?
In 1991, Congress established the LESO program which allows the Defense Department to transfer excess property to state agencies who request them. The property is given to agencies -- police departments, fish and wildlife services, and state universities alike -- as-is and must be used by the agency within a year. LESO gives these agencies access to tanks, helicopters, tear gas, machine guns, armored cars, night-vision equipment, and more battlefield-tested equipment. In 2013 alone, more than $440 million in supplies were doled out to agencies in all 50 states.
These weapons do not belong in our neighborhoods or in the hands of our communities police forces. When combined with systemic policing bias toward communities of color, our citizens are less safe at the hands of those sworn to protect them.
We don’t know where the next Ferguson may be, but so long as LESO continues to provide military-grade weapons to local law enforcement the threat remains. We urge Governors to opt-out of these programs to ensure the safety and uphold the civil rights of their communities.