US police brutality sparks debate about militarisation of cops

Salma El-Saeed, Tuesday 26 Aug 2014

Police tactics in Missouri prompt US President Barack Obama to look into how military equipment reaches state and local law enforcement bodies

A law enforcement officer watches as tear gas is fired to disperse a crowd protesting the shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson August 17,2014 (Photo:AP)

The militarisation and brutality of US police have come under scrutiny following the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman earlier this month.

Michael Brown was shot at least six times by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, after he allegedly stole a box of cigars from a convenience store. The incident came shortly after Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black man, died of a heart attack in New York after police held him in a chokehold.

Brown's shooting immediately led outraged citizens in Ferguson to protest the excessive use of force against Brown, a movement that quickly spread across the US to shed light on police brutality and race relations in the US.

The situation escalated when Ferguson protesters and police clashed and police used military-style tactics such as tear gas to contain the riots, which further highlighted police militarisation.

Protesters also gained momentum by remembering the death of Garner last month and Trayvon Martin, another black teenager who was shot dead by Florida police in 2012.

Peace and justice for Brown

Brown was laid to rest on Monday, when AFP reported that civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton delivered a eulogy in which he called for Brown's death to spark change.

"Michael Brown does not want to be remembered for riots," Sharpton said, according to Reuters. "He wants to be remembered as the one that made America deal with how we're going to police in the United States."

Reuters reported that separate investigations by a grand jury and the US Justice Department are currently under way.

Official response

According to Reuters, US President Barack Obama ordered an investigation of federal programmes responsible for the distribution of military equipment to state and local police.

Meanwhile, more than half of the respondents to a survey by USA Today and the Pew Research Centre said that the police falls short in treating racial groups equally and using the right amount of force, AFP reported.

Republican US Senator Rand Paul also spoke out against law enforcement in the US, which he said is heavily influenced by race.

"There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace, but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response. The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action," Paul said.

Short link: