Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga) plans to introduce a bill to stop militarizing police departments around the country with surplus Pentagon equipment. Hawai’i folks have started a petition asking Rep Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hi) to sign on.
The overwhelming military-like attack by Ferguson police against the citizens they swore to protect who were protesting the shooting of a black teenager is playing out on our TV screens in its full horror. Opinion is that the use of disproportionate military force against American civilians has escalated the situation.
From the AP:
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 Pentagons military surplus program (called 1033) has been over-arming mostly rural police departments for 24 years with increasingly inappropriate equipment. For instance, peaceful Maui, whose biggest protest involved the Superferry where protesters in canoes chatted amiably with DLNR officers enforcing an exclusion zone, has just acquired a Bearcat assault vehicle. Our violence is mostly confined to tweakers in stolen cars trying to run from police or officers tazing out-to-lunch political candidates.
Do we really need a Bearcat assault vehicle on Maui? What are they expecting?
Are the GMO protesters going to stop their carefully legal, on-the-sidewalk marches and rise up to attack the County Building?
Are the Sovereignty folks going to stop their peaceful and brief occupations at parks and suddenly attack?
Are the tweakers going to band together in a ravening horde and rampage through Paia?
Thanks to 1033, local police agencies—some serving populations as small as 5,000—now have armored vehicles, machine guns, night-vision equipment, tactical vests and bullet-resistant shields, ballistic helmets, silencers, and aircrafts, which includes a pilotless drone in Montgomery County, Texas. Police departments began to look more like invading armies than units designed to serve and protect, as if they were putting down insurrection in Fallujah as opposed to supposedly keeping the peace in Ferguson.
Do we want this sort of disproportional military armament in Hawai’i? Will this keep the peace or escalate confrontation as it has in Ferguson, Missouri?
According to the ACLU:
American policing has become unnecessarily and dangerously militarized, in large part through federal programs that have armed state and local law enforcement agencies with the weapons and tactics of war, with almost no public discussion or oversight.
Using these federal funds, state and local law enforcement agencies have amassed military arsenals purportedly to wage the failed War on Drugs, the battlegrounds of which have disproportionately been in communities of color. But these arsenals are by no means free of cost for communities. Instead, the use of hyper- aggressive tools and tactics results in tragedy for civilians and police officers, escalates the risk of needless violence, destroys property, and undermines individual liberties.
I hope you’ll consider signing the petition to Rep Gabbard asking her to sign on to Rep Johnson’s bill to rein in this dangerous program.
UPDATE: Rep Gabbard has expressed her resolve to reduce the militarization of police.