By now you have heard that Attorney General Holder, Claire McCaskill, Rand Paul, and others have all called for the demilitarization of America’s police, and Rep. Hank Johnson plans to introduce a bill limiting military weapons being transferred to municipalities:
A Democratic congressman plans to introduce a bill to restrict a Defense Department program that provides machine guns and other surplus military equipment for free to local law enforcement agencies across the country.
Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said the legislation is in response to the death of an unarmed teenager who was shot by a police officer in a St. Louis suburb. The bill comes as members of Congress have called for the Justice Department to investigate the shooting of a black teen by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo.
Police in riot gear and military garb have clashed nightly with protesters since Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown and at times have trained weapons on them from armored trucks.
Johnson said city streets should be a place for businesses and families, “not tanks and M16s.” He said a Pentagon program that transfers surplus military equipment to state and local law enforcement has led to police agencies resembling paramilitary forces.
“Militarizing America’s main streets won’t make us any safer, just more fearful and more reticent,” Johnson said. He said his bill would limit the type of military equipment that can be transferred to law enforcement, and require states to certify they can account for all equipment received.
The bill targets a 24-year-old military surplus program that transfers equipment from blankets to bayonets and tanks to police and sheriff’s departments across the country. An Associated Press investigation last year of the Defense Department program found that a large share of the $4.2 billion in surplus military gear distributed since 1990 went to police and sheriff’s departments in rural areas with few officers and little crime.
America has been quietly arming its police for battle since the early 1990s.
Faced with a bloated military and what it perceived as a worsening drug crisis, the 101st Congress in 1990 enacted the National Defense Authorization Act. Section 1208 of the NDAA allowed the Secretary of Defense to “transfer to Federal and State agencies personal property of the Department of Defense, including small arms and ammunition, that the Secretary determines is— (A) suitable for use by such agencies in counter-drug activities; and (B) excess to the needs of the Department of Defense.” It was called the 1208 Program. In 1996, Congress replaced Section 1208 with Section 1033.
The idea was that if the U.S. wanted its police to act like drug warriors, it should equip them like warriors, which it has—to the tune of around $4.3 billion in equipment, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union. The St. Louis County Police Department’s annual budget is around $160 million. By providing law enforcement agencies with surplus military equipment free of charge, the NDAA encourages police to employ military weapons and military tactics.
The NY Times has a great piece on this, as does Bill Moyers and company (actually a must read), and I am sure it will surprise no one that one of the driving forces behind 1033 was none other than Joe Biden, who despite the good, almost always seems to be on the wrong side of law and order issues– don’t forget the Patriot Act and the hideous 2005 Bankruptcy Act (which then Senator Obama voted against- he also convinced Chicago police to use cameras whenever possible during interrogations. Smart guy-I bet he would make a good President!), but what do you expect from a Senator from Delaware, which is run by banking the way WV is run by coal.
At any rate, this is a good thing, and I hope the pressure continues to give us the momentum to pass a meaningful bill that will get these “people who like playing dress up,“ as Ryan Reilly calls them off the street and the military hardware mothballed. Remember, it’s not just the weaponry, it’s really shitty, untrained, insecure, and often times racist cops with heavy weaponry. Yes, we need to get these weapons out of the hands of these clowns, but we also need to address the large amount of shitty cops out there. Michael Brown wasn’t killed with a sniper rifle or a carbine or a tank. A bad cop can cause enough mayhem and murder with just a handgun. Until the power structure of Missouri reviews every Vine and every picture and every video of cops calling people animals and brutalizing civilians is punished, they aren’t taking things seriously. It’s insane that they have tanks but not dashcams. Hopefully the new approach being used tonight will show that this kind of weaponry is wholly unnecessary, and it certainly looks like Captain Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol is a total stud.
But we have to be realistic. The most important change that needs to happen is a change in way we think and act about the war on drugs and counter-terrorism. The weapons are just the fruit of the poison tree, much like no-knock raids, asset forfeiture, the almost complete destruction of the 4th Amendment, and so on. Getting these weapons off the street is a good start, and hopefully our politicians will have the courage to follow through on this. I am far less hopeful that a similar strain of sanity will take hold regarding the war on drugs.
But we can hope, and we can vote, and we can keep talking about it and doing what it takes to force this change. It won’t be easy, particularly since Democrats are notoriously cowardly when it comes to being labeled soft on crime, but it can be done. This insanity has got to stop.
*** Update ***
Some people are going to have to be dragged kicking and screaming towards change:
The executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police criticized President Obama Thursday for his remarks about law enforcement in Ferguson, Mo.
“I would contend that discussing police tactics from Martha’s Vineyard is not helpful to ultimately calming the situation,” director Jim Pasco said in an interview with The Hill.
“I think what he has to do as president and as a constitutional lawyer is remember that there is a process in the United States and the process is being followed, for good or for ill, by the police and by the county and by the city and by the prosecutors’ office,” Pasco added.
Pasco harkened back to 2009, when Obama criticized a Massachusetts police officer for arresting Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, when he was attempting to break into his own home. Obama said the officer had “acted stupidly.”
“That is one where the president spoke precipitously without all the facts,” Pasco said, adding that the current situation “is a much larger and more tragic incident.”
Pasco said both police and members of the public are entitled to due process but said he is not convinced police have used excessive force in Ferguson.
“I’m not there, and neither is the president,” Pasco said. “That is why we have due process in the United States. And this will all be sorted out over time. But right now, I haven’t seen anything from afar — and maybe the president has — that would lead me to believe the police are doing anything except to restore order.”
A. You don’t know what Obama is convinced of at all, so stop talking for him you punk.
B. If you aren’t convinced that was excessive force, you are part of the problem.
C. Go to hell.