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Protests Turn a Glaring Spotlight on the Big Business of Outfitting the Police

Posted  June 4, 2020

The groundswell of protest against police brutality after George Floyd’s murder has rightly turned the world’s attention to the harsh tactics employed by police departments and the racist biases in how those tactics are applied.  Shocking images have emerged from around the U.S. of police officers ready to respond to protesters, outfitted like military, looking like they are going into battle.  How did we get here, where our police officers are using equipment normally associated with war scenes against American protesters?  Corporate greed played no small part.

A large number of well-funded corporate interests have a very serious stake in every tragic death involving a police officer—manufacturers of guns, police armor, drug tests, body cameras, and bomb robots all stand to benefit from the tragic killings both of, and by, police officers.  Some of the largest private equity companies own the companies making the tear gas being liberally used to disperse protesters.  As The Verge put it back in 2016 after the death of Alton Sterling sparked a different round of protests, “In a week of police violence, Wall Street won.”

And these corporate interests extend further than you may think.  The sale of military equipment happens both directly from tank manufacturers and through the transfer of surplus equipment from the Department of Defense.

As the world takes to the streets again, the full effect of these expenditures are on display.  Lawmakers of both parties have expressed alarm seeing military equipment on American streets and are discussing bipartisan bills that would at least end the practice of transferring military equipment from the federal government to localities.  But that does not address the fundamental problem whenever corporate interests are involved—to stop the militarization of the police requires breaking the often too-cozy relationships between police departments and equipment companies.

One potential tool to fight these practices could be state False Claims Acts, which prohibit the submission of false claims to states and localities.  If you have any information about procurement fraud, please contact us.


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