Anyone who attended the May 31st protest in downtown Freeport probably saw the massive, sandy-colored armored vehicle parked by the courthouse. It half-resembles a tank.
That vehicle is called an MRAP. That stands for “mine-resistant armored vehicle”.
MRAPs are troop-carriers which were designed for combat situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They can survive direct hits from missiles and landmines.
I’ll be blunt: why the hell was a MRAP deployed in the streets of Freeport, my quaint hometown? Did Stephenson County acquire a landmine problem since I left for college in 2017?
The answer to these questions involves a federal program that our local law enforcement has used to obtain weapons of war from the US military.
Federal data shows that the Freeport Police Department and the Stephenson County Sheriff combine to own 45 M16 assault rifles, two Humvees, and the MRAP.
The federal program that distributes these weapons to local cops is called the 1033 Program. It was started in the 1990s and has distributed weapons of war to local cops across America for nearly 30 years.
The 1033 Program is widely criticized for promoting the use of military tactics and weapons against American citizens.
Some supporters of the program say that it allows extra supplies like utility vehicles, snow plows, and medical supplies to not go to waste. And I don’t know that I would have a huge problem with FPD getting an extra snow plow or some bandages from the government.
But I want to be clear: MRAPs are not the same as a snow plow. M16s are not the same as medical supplies.
Assault rifles and MRAPs are weapons of war with no business in our town.
I believe that the Freeport City Council and the Stephenson County Board must act so that law enforcement is not allowed to obtain weapons from the US military.
This should be done through a binding ordinance that bans local law enforcement from obtaining deadly weapons and tactical vehicles from the federal government. Any banned items that local law enforcement currently has, such as the MRAP, would need to be returned as quickly as possible.
We have seen weapons of war deployed against the civilian population of Freeport by our local law enforcement. But never forget that law enforcement works for us. We can, and must, force them to listen to calls for social justice. Disarming the police is a first step towards the larger goal.