How Emergency Powers Pave the Way for Police Brutality at Protests
(Rewire | April 21, 2021) When curfew hit at 8 p.m. on April 13 in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, it felt like someone had flipped a switch.
Reporters on the ground say the protest outside the police department had been peaceful, full of speeches and songs.
But the environment quickly changed as law enforcement began to use more aggressive tactics, firing less-lethal rounds, tear gas and flash grenades at protesters in an attempt to disperse the protest …
… In 1878, The Posse Comitatus Act was passed to prevent the federal military from engaging in law enforcement activity. There was a desire for the military and law enforcement to be separate entities.
“They’re supposed to keep the peace, prevent disturbances, quell disorder, but not enforce the law. That’s for the cops,” said William Banks, professor emeritus at the Syracuse University College of Law.
But states aren’t burdened by that restriction.
“If the governor wishes, depending on how the state law is written, National Guard forces could enforce the curfew or engage in a search or make an arrest of an individual who’s violating the law,” Banks said.
In the past 20 years, the lines have further blurred. That’s because military-grade force doesn’t just come from the military.
Since 1997, federal programs have transferred surplus military equipment to local police departments. Police departments often respond to protests in full tactical military gear, with gas masks, shields and armored vehicles.
For instance, as NPR reported, St. Paul suburb Cottage Grove’s police department alone acquired $1 million in military gear during the Trump administration. The department received 39 bayonets in December 2019.
“That kind of a force, particularly if it’s made distant from the people by virtue of the equipment that they use and the paraphernalia that they wear, and the rules of engagement that follow, they’re no longer being responsive to the people,” Banks said …