Oct. 7 forum to focus on ‘militarization’ of American police

Local police departments’ use of military weaponry, SWAT and decommissioned military gear, known as the “militarization” of American policing, and its impact on communities, the general public and police officers will be the focus of a forum Tuesday, Oct. 7, at Western Carolina University.

The event will be held at 8 p.m. in the conference room of Blue Ridge Hall. It is free and open to the public.

WCU criminology and criminal justice faculty members Kyle Burgason,Tom Johnson, Ophir Sefiha and Fred Hawley will join Ernie Hudson, chief of WCU police, in discussing the topic “Police Militarization: Emerging Perspectives in Historical Context.”

Military weapons have been in use for police work since SWAT teams emerged in the 1960s and expanded as a consequence of the war on drugs. Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government expanded a Department of Defense program that helps fortify local police departments by making surplus military equipment available to them.

In August, heavily armed police officers using the equipment clashed with protestors in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white officer. President Barack Obama ordered a review of the federal program because of the police response in Ferguson.

“Our hope is that this forum will help clarify some of the issues involved nationally because of the recent events and to bring historical, political, social and professional perspectives to a community discussion about American policing,” said Hawley.

Forum sponsors include WCU’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Center for Service Learning, Honors College and Criminal Justice Club.

For more information, contact the criminology and criminal justice department at 828-227-2171.