Two very controversial and heavily debated topics are militarized law enforcement and the Department of Defense program. The Los Angeles School Police Department has listened to the voice of their citizens and returned the last of their artillery weapons to the Pentagon, The Los Angeles Times reports.
A letter issued to activists by the school district indicated that the grenade launchers, rifles and a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicle are all no longer in the possession of school police.
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The program received strong criticism after officers in Ferguson, Missouri used some of the same equipment against protesters during riots after the shooting death of Michael Brown.
While some maintain that armed police guards on school campuses could prevent mass shootings, civil rights groups such as the Labor/Community Strategy Center don’t see any benefit to the police having access to such weapons, especially as many officers have yet to prove themselves responsible with their handguns.
On Tuesday, activists took over an L.A. Unified school board committee meeting demanding proof that all of the weaponry was gone. They also requested an apology from the district and a pledge to cut all ties with the Defense Department.
The Strategy Center has been asking the district to provide the public with an inventory of its weapons and to return or destroy what was given by the Defense Department program since 2014, according to The Times.
Back then, the district returned the grenade launchers but justified keeping the rifles by referring to them as “essential life-saving items” along with the armored vehicle.
Despite this sugar coating tactic, activists did not back down and continued to demand that the district return all of the Defense Department’s military weapons. When the group took over the meeting Tuesday, they interrupted the Pledge of Allegiance and made sure that their issue was the first order of business.
While this protest upset officials and ultimately caused them to adjourn the meeting before it even got started, meeting chairman and board member George McKenna reportedly stepped in to reassure the demonstrators that the district returned all of the weapons.
This situation is profound because public outcry and activism have been key factors in the fight to demilitarize U.S. law enforcement.
Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, rightfully stated last week during a rally at Morehouse College that the police presence in minority communities is more like “occupying armies.”
Police officers in Los Angeles have a terrible rapport with minority communities due in part to the fact that they enforce the law using fear and the LAPD, in particular, is notoriously known for racial profiling. The weapons provided by the Defense Department to the city's school police only increased that existing fear.
The return of the military weaponry is a huge milestone — not for the police, but for the activists who are fighting tirelessly to improve relations between the community and law enforcement.
This represents a small, but important victory for not only the strategy center but black lives matter, LGBT advocates, social equality activists and all who have experienced police’s callous disregard for the people residing in communities they serve.
While other departments may still be armed with these destructive weapons, there is a sense of success that they have been removed from the nation’s second-largest school system.
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Banner/Thumbnail Credit: REUTERS/Mike Blake