We’ve gotten a taste of what police militarization looks like—in cases like the events following police killings of black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore. Barbara Lott-Holland, associate director at the Labor Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles, worries that these confrontations will only intensify as the threat of climate change grows.
People were fighting for basic human rights in Ferguson and Baltimore, she says, and responses will be much more violent when protesters demand access to fundamental needs like water and food.
Her solution? Abolish the program that supplies many of these weapons.
The Department of Defense 1033 Program provides law enforcement agencies equipment for police militarization.
That’s one of the strategy center’s four demands that Lott-Holland brings with her to the U.N. climate talks in Paris. The Department of Defense’s 1033 Program provides law enforcement agencies equipment for police militarization, such as aircraft, armored vehicles, and body armor. About 8,000 local law enforcement agencies have used the 1033 Program, but Lott-Holland’s efforts focus on Los Angeles.
Last year, LA school police returned grenade launchers to the DOD after pressure from education and civil rights groups, including the Labor Community Strategy Center. The groups are especially concerned about safety for children of color. The school police ultimately kept 61 rifles, but how officials plan to use these weapons is still unclear, Lott-Holland says.
“The responsible thing for them to do is to destroy the weapons,” Lott-Holland said, later adding, “We should have never had them in the first place.”
A 2014 report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which expects climate change to “threaten human security” especially in places experiencing violent conflict and migration, lends substantial support for her concerns.
YES! spoke with her to learn more about why she’s bringing this demand to Paris.
This interview has been lightly edited.
What are the consequences of local police and schools having access to these weapons?
We can see the weapons being used, again, as the first line of defense. Well, they were frightened, which is the thing that police are saying now when they are killing and shooting unarmed black people, is that they feared for their life. When they have these in their arsenal of weapons—and I have been in meetings with school police where they told us these are the things in their toolkit—it is at their discretion what they use and under what circumstance.
How does this relate to climate change?
There is going to be a climate war.
What do you think it will look like?
First of all, the poor neighborhoods are going to be left behind. When food, water, and an area that is less polluted is available, there will not be poor people there. When it comes to the point where the government is rationing the things that we need to survive, like food and water, medicine, maybe even clothing—because we won’t be able to produce those things—if they roll up to a neighborhood, an impoverished neighborhood, and they have only a few things to give out, the people will protest. They have to protest. It is a human need here. Your basic requirements are being limited or eliminated. And people are going to uprise and say, “I need water. I need food. And I need air.”
These weapons will be used on these people who are fighting for their daily existence. They will be used to contain people in a particular area. I can see areas of the poor being quarantined. I can see areas of the poor having more diseases because they are not going to be able to get the things that they need, and this will cause an insurgency of the people. And they will push back on the people with military force.
“We should not have military weapons period. We should not be using weapons of mass destruction on any human being.”
What is the way to slow down a future where there are climate wars?
Right now, the governments of the world need to accept the fact that there is climate change. They need to accept the fact that this reduction [of resources] has been created by people. The governments and the people of the world will need to reduce resources that they consume. It will take the people saying, “Yes, I will have to make some sacrifices in order for us to survive on this planet.” Countries will need to give up their fight for dominance and transfer that over to the survival of the people of the planet and do something to reduce emissions in the air.
What is the responsible thing for the government to do when it handles weapons in these kind of programs?
The responsible thing for them to do is to destroy the weapons. We should not have military weapons period. We should not be using weapons of mass destruction on any human being. We don’t even want the government to return the weapons; they are only going to give them to someone else. We want them destroyed. We want everyone to get out of the 1033 Program and say, “No, I am not a sub-military division of the U.S. I will not use these military weapons on my people.”
Look how far we’ve gotten. Police first didn’t have weapons. Now we went from handguns to assault rifles to SWAT. Their ability to destroy lives has only increased, and now they have military weapons. This is why we are fighting back and saying, “Destroy them.” We should have never had them in the first place.
What are alternate steps for the justice system to take to carry out its role? We already talked about stopping us from getting to the point where we get to climate wars.
I think that we need to reduce our law enforcement and build up our communities to make them safe. The things that really make a safe community are employment, open fields, recreational spaces, health care centers, mass transportation 24/7, and building things within the community that make the community thrive. These are the things that reduce criminal elements and reduce the need to have a massive police force.