The shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white policeman has led to days of protests and violence in Ferguson, Missouri. The images coming out of the small American community are evocative of the civil rights era.

Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 may not seem so different from Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. Around two-thirds of the town's residents are black - but there are just three blacks among the town's 53 police officers.

Despite all the similarities, it is also very different. Since the 1990s, the federal government has increasingly militarised its police forces - a process that accelerated after the 9/11 attacks.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, government departments have distributed $4.3bn worth of equipment to police.

Today's officers have access to M-16 rifles, grenade launchers and armoured personnel carriers. In Ferguson we are seeing what happens when the very people tasked with protecting the public look like an invading army.

The resemblance to American soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan has become a recurring theme on social media. So, do images of a paramilitary police force, already struggling with questions of race, undermine its legitimacy still further and what does it mean for civil rights?

Presenter: Shiulie Ghosh

Guests:

Brittany Packnett, the executive director of Teach for America St Louis. She organised a rally in support of young people in Ferguson

Rosa Clemente, the Green Party's vice-presidential candidate in 2008 and an academic specialising in the civil rights movement.

Hubert Williams, the former president of the Police Foundation and former deputy special advisor to the police commission that investigated the police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles.

Source: Al Jazeera