|COMMENT By Bob Weaver|
With state, county and local police across the USA moving toward militarization of their agencies, McDowell is one West Virginia county on the cutting edge.
The county has benefited from the redistribution of heavy armament from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars by the federal government. Homeland Security has distributed high-tech weaponry, equipment and a tank..
Sheriff Martin West said, “The good part is that it didn’t cost our office or the county one cent. We got four hummers a few years ago."
The MRAP is one of nearly 2,000 pieces of military equipment and supplies police agencies in West Virginia have received since 2006 as part of a Department of Defense program to transfer surplus military equipment to police agencies, according to a New York Times report.
Items loaned included grenade launchers, which were sent to Cabell and Berkeley counties, and assault rifles.
A McDowell County press report in 2013: "Weighing 46,000 pounds and measuring over 13-feet tall and nearly 9-feet wide, the Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) can haul 10 to 12 men comfortably and fit even more when necessary. From the gunner’s nest on top to the bulletproof windows, the APC is tough enough to intimidate even the hardest, coldest criminals," according to McDowell sheriff Martin West.
Added to the mix of military-style law enforcement is the use of surveillance drones, nationwide military training for local law enforcement, and the most extensive intercepted surveillance program of the country's own citizens, said to "protect the homeland."
Although, in West Virginia, Jimmy Gianato, Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for the State of West Virginia, in answering a public information request from the Hur Herald, responded, "We have no drones, not plans to acquire any."
The increased military upgrades coincides with the National Rifle Associations position that more military-type guns in the hands of the good guys makes America safer.
Opponents contend that such military efforts discriminate against the citizenry, creating multiple violations of personal civil liberties supposedly guaranteed by the US Constitution, including violations of Fourth Amendment and even First Amendment Rights.
The military enforcement response to protests over the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by police in Ferguson, Mo., shows the extent to which local police departments have become too militarized, said Sen. Rand Paul.
While the police do have a duty to keep the peace, Paul noted, there is a difference between a police response and a military one.
Paul said Washington has "incentivized the militarization of local police precincts" by providing money to help local governments build "what are essentially small armies." They are able to obtain military gear that is beyond the needs of what most consider to be simple law enforcement, he said.
Coupled with an erosion of civil liberties and due process, police become judge and jury, he said, citing national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, and pre-conviction forfeiture.
Americans in general feel targeted by their own government, Paul said, and considering the racial disparities of the criminal justice system, it isn't surprising for blacks to feel they are especially targeted.
While Americans seem overly-polarized with Second Amendment gun rights, they seem passive about the violations of civil rights and liberties guaranteed by the US constitution, including massive government surveillance and the militarization of their police departments.