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  • In California alone, more than $30 million in excess military hardware has been distributed — mostly free of charge — to more than 200 law enforcement agencies since November 1996.

  • Nationally, a total of 43,253 items originally valued at $204.3 million went to more than 11,000 government law enforcement agencies in all 50 states over a one-year period.

  • Bayonets, weapons of deadly hand-to-hand combat, have bolstered the arsenals of police in 23 states as part of a massive flow of surplus military gear.

What gives? Why is all this deadly hardware purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars to fight foreign enemies now being turned on unsuspecting American civilians at the very moment they are being disarmed by local, state and federal governments?

The militarization of local police departments is getting so brazen even many local governments are having second thoughts about the program. In Los Angeles, for instance, one of the nation’s biggest police departments is saying it was a mistake to accept the bayonets and is shipping them back to the Army.

More than 6,400 surplus bayonets went to law enforcement agencies between Oct. 1, 1996 and Sept. 30, 1997, according to the federal Defense Logistics Agency in Washington. But what on earth would domestic police departments do with bayonets?

For once I agree with the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We can imagine no circumstances whatsoever where it would be appropriate for a local police agency to put a bayonet on the end of a rifle,” said John Crew, an ACLU attorney.

It turns out they were requisitioned by a sergeant in the LAPD. But what about elsewhere? What about North Carolina, Connecticut and Indiana where far more bayonets were distributed? And why is the federal government even making this stuff available for the purposes of domestic law enforcement? Do they so distrust the American people? Evidently so. Washington won’t even report to the people where the gear is going.

Just imagine if the Illinois state police had bayonets on their rifles the day they kicked down Shirley Allen’s door in Roby? Instead of being unfairly incarcerated in a mental ward right now, she might have been shish kebab.

This whole program turning over military gear to local cops got started in 1990 with the requirement that agencies use the weapons to fight drugs. But that rule was quietly dropped by the Clinton administration last year when the program was dramatically expanded.

What other goodies are local and state police departments getting from the military? Everything from fatigues to office equipment to helicopters, armored vehicles, body armor, assault rifles and night-vision gear. Hmmm. I’ll sleep better at night knowing I’m so well-protected.

All of this wouldn’t be quite so alarming if it didn’t occur simultaneously with the militarization of the growing ranks of federal cops. There are now more than 80,000 armed federal personnel involved in law enforcement in agencies as diverse as the FBI and the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s the standing army the Founding Fathers so feared might develop along with a strong central government.

Another ominous trend is the growing cooperation between not only the dozens of federal law enforcement agencies which routinely perform joint military-syle raids on unsuspecting civilians, but also the way the feds work so closely with local and state cops. The federal government has also taken the lead role in training local and state police officers as well at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center that has plans to turn out some 25,000 new U.S. cops each of the next three years.

On top of that, if you really want to venture into the realm of the paranoid, there’s the plan currently before Congress to authorize the hiring of more foreign police — specifically those from the Royal Hong Kong Police department — into the federal law enforcement agencies. Such hiring is already permissible, under earlier legislation, at the local and state level.

What ever happened to the concept of “government of the people, by the people and for the people”? Have we strayed so far? Has the schism between government and the governed become so large that only one side can be trusted with guns? Is this not the path only to tyranny?

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