Two weeks ago, Ferguson, Missouri, was a small, predominately black community located north of St. Louis that few people outside the state knew much about. That all changed on August 9 when Michael Brown—an 18-year-old black male from the area—was fatally shot by a local police officer.
The tragedy opened “deep wounds” for a community that has been plagued by racial tension for years. As word of the shooting spread, riots and looting erupted across Ferguson.
In an attempt to restore order, the St. Louis County Police Department brought in what looked like a small army. Tactical officers wearing full-body armor and brandishing assault rifles patrolled the streets. The precinct even rolled out its “BearCat” armored personnel carrier for good measure. Tensions culminated with police firing rubber bullets and tear gas canisters at demonstrators. At one point, an Al Jezeera film crew was even targeted with tear gas.
Needless to say, the egregious display of force escalated matters, prompting Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to declare a state of emergency over the weekend.
The militarization of domestic police departments is not something on the radar for most precious metals investors, even though it speaks to several core reasons for owning gold.
In fact, the sight of police snipers tracking protestors through the scope of high-caliber rifles is only good for two things: spreading fear and fueling distrust of central authority. It’s also a harsh reminder that the interests of government and the public aren’t always aligned.
September 11 forever altered America. We are reminded of this every time we pass through airport security, though this is hardly the only lingering consequence from that fateful day.
As part of the War on Terrorism, police precincts across the country have been stockpiling advanced military weaponry. The New York Times reported in June that US police departments collectively own 93,763 assault weapons, more than 500 military-grade aircraft, and 432 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs), or armored trucks designed to withstand the explosion of a roadside bomb.
Federal programs are driving this buildup. Section 1208 of the National Defense Authorization Act permits the “transfer to Federal and State agencies personal property of the Department of Defense, including small arms and ammunition.” In this case, the word “transfer” means to essentially give away.
The police department of Watertown, Connecticut, recently acquired its own MRAP vehicle for a measly $2,800—not a bad deal considering that these armored trucks would normally run you $733,000. The police force of Bloomington, Georgia, also took advantage of federal subsidies recently when it purchased four grenade launchers, which might be overkill for a town of less than 3,000 people.
As if supplying local police units with heavy firepower wasn’t concerning enough, the federal government does not instruct police departments on how to use their new toys. Additionally, the Department of Defense Excess Property Program, commonly known as the 1033 Program, requires police departments to surrender any equipment not put to use within a year, which explains why police would show up to a protest decked out in camouflage and armed to the teeth.
The combination of heavy firepower and a lack of accountability has given rise to a warrior mentality where “protect and serve” has been replaced with “kick ass and take names.” Accounts of SWAT teams kicking down doors with guns drawn to merely serve search warrants are all too common these days.
While the images coming out of Ferguson could easily be mistaken for war-torn Baghdad, this type of situation can happen anywhere in America. The average citizen stands no chance against a SWAT team bursting through their front door; however, investors can protect their wealth from further decay of the republic by owning hard assets and through proper international diversification. Keep in mind that warning signs often come from the most unlikely places.
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