There was an important bill that received consideration by the House Criminal Justice Committee today. The bill is HB4914 to require law enforcement to report on their use of SWAT teams. I gave the following testimony in favor of this legislation:
Hello, I am Shane Trejo, the state coordinator for the Michigan Tenth Amendment Center, a group that promotes civil liberties and decentralized government. I am speaking today to urge you to vote yes on HB4914 to begin to address the urgent problem that we are facing with police militarization in our country.
According to Eastern Kentucky University criminologist Peter Kraska, the amount of SWAT team raids have increased from a few hundred per year in the 1970s to an excess of 50,000 per year in the mid-2000s. And now things have gotten even worse as military equipment is being shipped from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan into American communities. This continues to ramp up even though the crime rate is at a 20 year low and still plunging. Something does not add up here.
With the increase of SWAT team raids have come abuses. America now houses more prisoners than any other country in the world by a wide margin. Civil asset forfeiture, often called policing for profit, turns the criminal justice system on its head by deeming suspects guilty until proven innocent and forcing them to pay for lawyer and court costs to get their property back before they are even convicted of a crime. No-knock warrants have put police and the public into danger, as an individual cannot properly distinguish law enforcement from a home invader when they are deployed. The police also regularly deploy SWAT teams based on testimony from confidential informants. When these informants give unreliable information to law enforcement, innocent families are terrorized because of the widespread use of these heavy-handed tactics.
Make no mistake about it, this is escalating as we speak. In the madness of Ferguson, MO just a little over a month ago, we saw the potential future of our country if we keep heading down this path and it wasn’t pretty. Peaceful protesters were being tear gassed, journalists were being detained and the police were behaving like an occupying army rather than an entity designed to keep the peace and protect the rights of the public.
To make matters even worse, police are being trained that the public is the enemy. Earlier this year, a DHS-funded program called National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism or (START) implicated sovereign Americans as being the nation’s top security threat. In addition, the FBI’s Communities against Terrorism initiative distributed a series of flyers implicating people who use cash instead of credit cards, avoid eye contact in social situations, take pictures in public, own private facilities unavailable to the greater public, and others engaged in seemingly innocuous behavior as potential terrorist threats who should be monitored and profiled by law enforcement. This goes along with the DHS’s Orwellian ‘See Something, Say Something’ program that is meant to have a chilling effect on free speech and free expression.
This is a scary direction we are headed in as a country. But thankfully, we have a Constitution that allows for checks and balances against this type of behavior. That is what you have the power to do today. Only through measures like HB4914 can we begin to address the problems resulting from the rampant police militarization that is taking place in our country. We must know what the police are doing. Allowing the police to operate in secrecy as they receive military hardware and technology used in war zones is a recipe for disaster. If Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks proved anything, it is that government acting in a cloak and dagger fashion will necessarily result in terrible human rights violations. We must act now to prevent these types of abuses from happening in the state of Michigan.
HB4914 is the first step toward curbing the militarization of our police, and restoring the public trust between the people and law enforcement. I urge you all to move this bill through your committee so it can get a full vote in the state house. Thank you.
The first step toward nullification is transparency. If we can get an accurate record of what abuses the police are committing, we can raise awareness of the problem and then push for the necessary reforms. That is why you should support HB4914, and here is how you can help make it through committee:
1. Contact the House Criminal Justice Committee Chair, Kurt Heise. – Strongly, but respectfully urge him to move this important bill forward to a vote in his committee.
2. Call all the other members of the House Criminal Justice Committee.
Again, be strong but respectful. Ask them each for a YES vote on HB4914. If they say they’re opposed, ask them why. If they’re undecided or will not commit to a YES vote, let them know you will be following up in a few days after they have a chance to consider it. A phone call has 10x the impact of an email.
Joseph Graves (R) Majority Vice-Chair (517) 373-1780
Stacy Oakes (D) Minority Vice-Chair (517) 373-0152
Klint Kesto (R) (517) 373-1799
Rose Mary Robinson (D) (517) 373-1008
Margaret O’Brien (R) (517) 373-1774
Kenneth Kurtz (R) (517) 373-1794
Mike Callton (R) (517) 373-0842
Ed McBroom (R) (517) 373-0156
John Kivela (D) (517) 373-0498
Brian Banks (D) (517) 373-0154
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