In the wake of the horrifying images coming out of Ferguson, Missouri, a Republican senator and a Democratic congressman are speaking out strongly against the militarization of law enforcement and will submit legislation to eliminate the federal grants that have fueled that process. Sen. Rand Paul writes in Time magazine:
Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies—where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement.
This is usually done in the name of fighting the war on drugs or terrorism. The Heritage Foundation’s Evan Bernick wrote in 2013 that, “the Department of Homeland Security has handed out anti-terrorism grants to cities and towns across the country, enabling them to buy armored vehicles, guns, armor, aircraft, and other equipment.”
Bernick continued, “federal agencies of all stripes, as well as local police departments in towns with populations less than 14,000, come equipped with SWAT teams and heavy artillery.”…
When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury—national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture—we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands.
Given these developments, it is almost impossible for many Americans not to feel like their government is targeting them. Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.
This is part of the anguish we are seeing in the tragic events outside of St. Louis, Missouri. It is what the citizens of Ferguson feel when there is an unfortunate and heartbreaking shooting like the incident with Michael Brown.
Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention. Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences for non-violent mistakes in their youth.
Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson proposed legislation on Thursday aimed at demilitarizing domestic police forces, amid national criticism of heavily armed cops going after protesters in Ferguson, Mo.
“Our main streets should be a place for business, families, and relaxation, not tanks and M16s,” the Democratic congressman wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter to members of Congress. “Unfortunately … our local police are quickly beginning to resemble paramilitary forces.”
The Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act would prevent the transfer of certain military-grade equipment from the Department of Defense to local law enforcement agencies. That includes some automatic weapons, armored vehicles, armored drones, silencers and flash-bang or stun grenades.
Johnson boasted endorsements from the Friends Committee on National Legislation, American Civil Liberties Union and Defending Dissent Foundation.
“Before another small town’s police force gets a $700,000 gift from the Defense Department that it can’t maintain or manage, it behooves us to reign in the Pentagon’s 1033 program and revisit the merits of a militarized America. I hope we can work together on this important issue,” he wrote to colleagues.
Johnson will formally introduce the bill in September when Congress returns from summer recess, his office told TPM.
Now the bad news. Only five weeks ago, the House voted on an amendment submitted by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL). It was voted down 62-355. This is one of those areas where liberals and libertarians agree (though the Democrats in Congress still keep voting for it). The only way this gets fixed is if we work together to create a grassroots uprising over it because there’s no moneyed interest that wants to see it fixed. And without that, things rarely get done. Congress doesn’t do much of anything unless there’s someone willing to pay them to do it.