Trump Al­lows Mil­i­tary Grade Equip­ment Back into Hands of the Po­lice

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Don­ald Trump’s plan to al­low po­lice to re­ceive mil­i­tary equip­ment is seen by at least one group as a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to ‘in­tim­i­date com­mu­ni­ties of color’.

In a fur­ther ‘bat­tle of ex­ec­u­tive or­ders’, at the end of Au­gust Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump just re­moved a ban put in place by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to keep mil­i­tary equip­ment from be­ing re­pur­posed into lo­cal po­lice au­thor­ity’s hands.

Obama’s orig­i­nal ex­ec­u­tive or­der blocked an ex­ist­ing pol­icy to al­low ev­ery­thing from ar­mored ve­hi­cles, bay­o­nets, grenade launch­ers, cam­ou­flage uni­forms, large-cal­iber weaponry, am­mu­ni­tion and other equip­ment from be­ing brought back from the U.S. mil­i­tary bases over­seas, for use in city streets across the United States. The Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­ver­sal of the pol­icy was, ac­cord­ing to ad­min­is­tra­tion doc­u­ments, an op­por­tu­nity to put back in place the past pro­gram for re­cy­cling gear from the De­part­ment of De­fense.

The for­mal an­nounce­ment came down on Au­gust 28, dur­ing a speech in Nashville by At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions to the Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice (FOP), the largest po­lice union in the na­tion. Us­ing the ex­cuse that “We will not put su­per­fi­cial con­cerns above pub­lic safety,” Ses­sions proudly an­nounced the new plan. “All you need to do is turn on a TV right now to see that for Hous­to­ni­ans this isn’t about ap­pear­ances,” he went on, “it’s about get­ting the job done and get­ting ev­ery­one to safety,”

What drove the orig­i­nal ban were mul­ti­ple in­ci­dents, in­clud­ing most no­tably the Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri ri­ot­ing fol­lowed the 2014 shoot­ing of un­armed and ap­par­ently in­no­cent 18-year-old Michael Brown. Af­ter that killing, which au­thor­i­ties and other have rec­og­nized as a clear abuse of po­lice au­thor­ity, peo­ple came to the streets to protest and riot. The po­lice re­sponse was to bring out their ex­ist­ing mil­i­tary-grade equip­ment in­clud­ing ar­mored trucks, riot gear, as­sault ri­fles and tear gas.

As for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said in May 2015 about the ban – and with both di­rect and in­di­rect ref­er­ence to Fer­gu­son, “We’ve seen how mil­i­ta­rized gear can some­times give peo­ple a feel­ing like they’re an oc­cu­py­ing force, as op­posed to a force that’s part of the com­mu­nity that’s pro­tect­ing them and serv­ing them. Be­sides the ob­vi­ous op­por­tu­nity for the avail­abil­ity of such equip­ment to en­cour­age an abuse of au­thor­ity, Obama also said such equip­ment can “alien­ate and in­ti­mate lo­cal res­i­dents”, creat­ing even more anger and un­rest rather than calm.

In Ses­sions’ talk, he was hav­ing none of that. He in­stead praised the use of mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles and he­li­copters be­ing de­ployed in Hous­ton to as­sist in sup­port in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Har­vey. He did man­age to for­get that such equip­ment was not in the hands of lo­cal po­lice but was in­stead be­ing used by well-trained and al­ready-au­tho­rized mem­bers of the Texas Na­tional Guard. Such equip­ment was also not be­ing used to in­tim­i­date or push back il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties at all, but in­stead mostly to help pro­vide res­cue, food, wa­ter, and other sup­plies rapidly across the Hous­ton metropoli­tan area.

In­stead Ses­sions, like Trump has re­cently, ‘ dou­bled down’ on his state­ments, push­ing back on those who dis­agreed with the new pol­icy. It was also good feed­ing for the FOP he was speak­ing to, who clearly ‘ate up’ all Ses­sions and Trump were dish­ing out. As the Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of the FOP, James Pasco, said, “We’re not talk­ing about tanks and can­nons. Ar­mored ve­hi­cles don’t at­tack peo­ple; they pro­tect peo­ple and not ev­ery­one can af­ford this equip­ment.”

Trump, in his own past state­ments, was at least a lit­tle more di­rect and clear about what he hoped for in this. In a speech he gave in Long Is­land, New York, to law en­force­ment of­fi­cials there on July 28, 2017, he openly pushed for po­lice of­fi­cers to be “rough” with those they’re con­fronting. He went on to talk about those the po­lice ap­pre­hend as “thugs be­ing thrown into the back of a paddy wagon’, and told the law en­force­ment of­fi­cials he was speak­ing to, “Don’t be too nice”.

Those who had wit­nessed the hellish sit­u­a­tions raised in Fer­gu­son and other com­mu­ni­ties when such weapons were brought in dis­agreed strongly.

Jani Nel­son, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor-coun­sel at the NAACP Le­gal De­fense Fund, said in their state­ment on this that Trump’s plan would “give law en­force­ment un­fet­tered ac­cess to equip­ment that has been used to in­tim­i­date com­mu­ni­ties of color, with lit­tle to no train­ing or over­sight”. She re­minded ev­ery­one of what had hap­pened in the re­cent past when that was al­lowed, as she said that, “Just a few sum­mers ago, our na­tion watched as Fer­gu­son raised the specter of in­creased po­lice mil­i­ta­riza­tion. The law en­force­ment re­sponse there and in too many places across the coun­try demon­strated how per­ilous, es­pe­cially for black and brown com­mu­ni­ties, a mil­i­ta­rized po­lice force can be.''

The Pres­i­dent of the Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence for Civil and Hu­man Rights, Vanita Gupta, said the Obama or­der was put in place to sup­port the idea of po­lice hav­ing “a guardian, not war­rior men­tal­ity” when it came to re­spond to lo­cal prob­lems. Gupta went on to say that this new de­ci­sion by the White House, es­pe­cially in con­sid­er­a­tion of Trump’s open sup­port of the white su­prem­a­cists in Char­lottesville, “re­flects this ad­min­is­tra­tion’s now open ef­fort to es­ca­late racial ten­sions in our coun­try.”

Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Rand Paul of Kentucky also called out the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s new move to al­low mil­i­tary weapons into Amer­ica’s cities. In a state­ment he said, “Amer­i­cans must never sac­ri­fice their lib­erty for an elu­sive and dan­ger­ous – or false – se­cu­rity. The mil­i­ta­riza­tion of our law en­force­ment is due to an un­prece­dented ex­pan­sion of gov­ern­ment power in this realm.”

The new ex­ec­u­tive or­der is a tragedy which only the U.S. Congress can over­turn.

Trump’s fanning of the flames of racial ten­sions in the U.S. is al­ready at a peak, and the new ex­ec­u­tive or­der looks to be one which will cause more un­needed fight­ing and killings. It is un­for­tu­nately only a mat­ter of time for that, based on past civil un­rest go­ing back to the ear­li­est days of the Civil Rights Move­ment, along with the lessons of Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri and more.

Photo by Jeff Head,

Photo by Jeff Head,

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