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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What a Christmas little Bastrop had! It’s still a mystery how Santa Claus got it down the chimney, but Bastrop got a nifty present that most children could only dream about: A big honkin’, steel-clad, war toy called MRAP.

But Bastrop is not a 6-year-old child, and an MRAP is not a toy. Bastrop is a Texas county of some 75,000 people, and MRAP stands for “Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected.” It’s a heavily-armored military vehicle weighing about 15 tons — one of several versions of fighting machines that have become the hot, must-have playthings of police departments all across the country.

Are the good people of Bastrop facing some imminent terrorist threat that warrants military equipment? No, it’s a very pleasant, laid-back place. And while the county is named for a 19th century land developer and accused embezzler, it’s never been a haven for particularly dangerous criminals — indeed, the relatively few crimes in Bastrop today don’t rise above the level of routine police work.

Even the sheriff’s department, which is the proud owner of the MRAP tank, says it doesn’t have a specific use for the machine, but “It’s here if we need it.” Well, yeah … but that same feeble rational would apply if the county decided to get an atom bomb — you just never know when a big mushroom cloud might come in handy!

What we have here is the absurdly dangerous militarization of America’s police departments. Our sprawling Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon (which gave the MRAP to Bastrop) are haphazardly spreading war equipment, war techniques and a war mentality to what are supposed to be our communities’ peacekeepers and crime solvers.

Having the technology and mindset for military actions, local authorities will find excuses to substitute them for honest police work, turning common citizens into “enemies.” As a spokesman for the Bastrop sheriff’s department said of the MRAP, “With today’s society … there’s no way the thing won’t be used.” How comforting is that?

But now, let’s turn from the battlefield to the gridiron.