Veterans of color push for voting rights, demilitarizing police departments

EXCLUSIVE: Black members of the veteran group, Common Defense, are speaking out in support of progressive values as it relates to key issues like voting and policing

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Veterans of color are pushing for elected officials to move on voting rights and demilitarizing police departments across the country. 

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Since June 2020, the country’s law enforcement practices and voting protections have been under the microscope. At the intersection of both issues is Common Defense, a coalition of veterans who support progressive values. The organization’s Black members want the country to recognize that the face and political positions of veterans across the country are evolving to largely include BIPOC former service members. 

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“It’s ridiculous to think that in not supporting all veterans, you’re not being racist,” US Navy Veteran Tashandra Poullard tells theGrio. “Because [when] most people think of veterans, they think of World War II/Vietnam white males, they don’t think of Black women who served in the Army Corps. They don’t think of Latin[x] women who were in communications or at work. They don’t see these things.”

The failure to fully acknowledge and conceptualize the growing number of veterans of color results in policymakers missing the shift in political ideologies occurring among this voting bloc. 

This generation of veterans want lawmakers to stand up for their long-cherished vote by mail access.

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

“For years people weren’t really focused on mail-in voting. It was actually something that veterans were using because of, you know, various situations healthwise, disabilities,” Poullard said. “But that was a vehicle that really enabled that community to still exercise their voting rights.”

Presently, many veterans of color view the changes to mail-in voting to be a new wave of Jim Crow restrictions to their ballot access. 

“I come from a long line of military veterans and they were serving in the military, but it was difficult for them to vote,” Poullard explained. “My family has always fallen under those Jim Crow restrictions because my family on both sides grew up in the state of Louisiana.”

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Poullard called the resurfacing of voter suppression in 2021, “mind-blowing” because it’s an issue so many generations before her confronted regularly despite their faithful service to country. Like many tackling voter suppression, she lays this issue at the GOP’s feet. 

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Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images

“It is coming from the Republican Party,” Poullard added. “If you’re saying that you support veterans, do you really support all American citizens?”

Additionally, Black veterans are growing concerned with war zone equipment being utilized by police departments across the country. 

Kyle Bibby, who is a former active duty Marine, points out that in addition to militarized vests, tanks and weaponry, police departments are engaging in warfare training that includes seminars with Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, the author of “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society.” His book is on the Marine Corps reading list. 

“The book is actually a good reading if you’re an officer in the military,” Bibby tells theGrio. “Police started seeing it, and people who were in the military who transferred to the police started referring to it. So now he teaches seminars on this, and this book really is not meant for police. This book is meant for people going to war.”

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Bibby also contends the training, equipment and ultimately philosophy of policing in the United States are being modeled to approach American civilians as threats. But he also contends the application of this style of policing is concentrated on communities of color. 

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A protester raises his hands in the air during a standoff with law enforcement on September 23, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

“This is cross-cultural training of skills and equipment has really led now to the police treating the population in a lot of ways as if the population is some sort of potential enemy force rather than their fellow community members,” Bibby said. “You can’t talk about this without also focusing on the fact that our policing is very racialized in this country.”

Former New York Police Department Detective and Director of the Black Law Enforcement Alliance, Marq Claxton, also shares a concern with the militarization of police departments in the United States. 

“There needs to be a de-escalation, if you will, of the militarization of police forces,” Claxton acknowledged. “The rules of engagement are very different for police and for soldiers. And I think the equipment that you are issued to accomplish whatever your objectives and goals are, should match what your assignment is.” 

Police in riot gear monitor activity outside the Pennsylvania Capitol Building on January 17, 2021 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Claxton believes there is an “overproliferation of the equipment in Black and brown communities.” He contends militarized equipment like tanks serves a dual purpose when used in communities of color. 

“The overuse of military equipment, you know, uniforms, regalia, all the, you know, that military stuff is part of the non-verbal communication about dominance in particular communities. And as we indicated earlier, it is too often displayed in communities of color,” Claxton explained. “They want the police to be this force that looks intimidating, that is intimidating, that is threatening, and that is not afraid to go on offense.” 

From advocating for the right to vote to calling for neighborhood streets without roving police tanks, Black veterans and former law enforcement are pushing back against the notion that Black people are not entitled to the full benefits of American freedom.  

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