In the nearly two weeks since Michael Brown was shot and killed on a Ferguson, Missouri, street, the town has erupted in protests, violence, and controversy. Anger over the racial component of the shooting turned peaceful protests violent night after night, with police responses escalating as quickly. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon called the National Guard in to keep the peace, and many voices have commented on what went wrong. Images of the events have been compared to protests and riots from the past, with notice being taken of the exceptional level of force used by police to control the situation. Scott Rasmussen was a teenager when he witnessed the summer riots of 1970 in Asbury Park, New Jersey. “The riots I remember were also fueled by racial grievances, and there were similar issues with white officers and black rioters,” Rasmussen notes. He also remembers the confusion fueled by conflicting storylines. They were frightening events, and dozens of people were wounded by the time all was said and done. But “there is a huge and horrible difference” in Ferguson. In the Asbury Park riots, the police used Billy clubs and shotguns. The rioters responded with rocks, bottles and some homemade bombs. It was unpleasant and dangerous, but it was a riot. In Ferguson, there are armored vehicles and it looks more like a war, with one side unarmed. There were officers in military camouflage gear, and the federal government declared the skies above a no-fly zone. This was an occupying force not appropriate for a free country. Protestors in Ferguson did use Molotov cocktails and gunfire, the police force overreacted, and things got ugly. Pictures of police who look like soldiers occupying suburban streets raise the question – why does law enforcement for a town of 22,000 have armored vehicles in the first place? Rasmussen says frankly, “The driving force behind this militarization of the police has been the federal government.” The Ferguson police department and other St. Louis towns have been part of a federal program that gives out military-grade weaponry and vehicles to local police departments. Bernard Kerik, a former New York City Police commissioner, says the program grew out of the war on drugs in the 1990s and continued in response to threats of terrorism and mass shootings in schools and public places. In light of this, we can give the benefit of the doubt and say the program was probably well-intentioned and even necessary. Consequences like those we’ve seen in Ferguson are hopefully unintended. Even so, the militarization of law enforcement coupled with “an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury” creates a serious problem. So says Rand Paul, U.S. Senator for Kentucky. The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm. It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime. It is quite another for them to subsidize it. Americans must never sacrifice their liberty for an illusive and dangerous, or false, security. Events like those in Ferguson show that our country is reaching “near-crisis point” in this struggle. What happens next? As technology grows exponentially, individuals gain more freedom and more power. For a simple example, anyone who has a smart phone can now essentially be a news reporter. This threatens traditional power structures, which have trouble adapting, especially ones as large and unwieldy as our federal government. In response to the perceived threat, “government agencies worried about losing control are resorting to ever more forceful means of keeping the public in line.” Must the digital revolution mean a war between government and citizen? Must one side totally defeat the other for peace? Or can we find another way forward, one that preserves individual liberty and avoids chaos, keeping the government in its rightful place? I’m confident that there is a way. By pulling the government back within its Constitutional limits and returning the power of decision to the people, we can ensure a truly free future for our children. And they will remember Ferguson, Missouri, as a sad instruction from history – not a continuing reality.