Trump Allows Military Grade Equipment Back into Hands of the Police
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.