Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced to the Fraternal Order of the Police on Monday that President Donald Trump would be lifting Obama-era restrictions on the provision of military-surplus equipment to local police.
The “1033 Program” was established by Congress in the 1990s to provide state and federal law enforcement, and eventually local civilian police, with surplus military machinery, including grenade launchers, bayonets, and large-caliber weapons.
Sessions referred to the equipment as “lifesaving gear,” but whose life did the automatic rifles, flash grenades, and military Humvees save during the civil unrest in Ferguson in 2014?
President Barack Obama restricted the access to this equipment in 2015 following harsh criticism of police force, and the backlash facing the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
Sessions however does not feel the same way, referring to these incidents of police brutality and tension as “superficial concerns,” and cited a “disturbing disrespect for the rule of law” as a major issue police face today.
You know what else is a major issue Sessions? The rampant, racially-motivated violence found in Charlottesville, Virginia and the rise of white supremacy across the country. Not the “slander” against Blue Lives, a problem that Sessions claimed was due to “divisive rhetoric” used against police officers.
The reason there is criticism against law enforcement in this country can best be displayed in MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid’s observation on the police force in Charlottesville. Reid pointed out on Twitter that the police in Charlottesville had the same equipment as the police in Baltimore and Ferguson, where protestors were surrounded by snipers and controlled with tear gas and police dogs, but did not use this force against marching Neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
Important point: police in Charlottesville had the same military equipment we saw in Baltimore and Ferguson. They just chose not to use them https://t.co/AECXPTOnkt— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) August 14, 2017
The excessive use of police force is again and again used against people of color, especially people of color who rally in public against this and other forms of oppression. In 2014 police in Ferguson violated the First Amendment right to assemble by forcing protestors to “keep moving,” and police in Baltimore were cited for discriminatory practices against blacks.
Local police do not need to have access to armed aircraft and grenade launchers. The civil unrest and racial tension in this country, coupled with brutal police practices and systematic prejudice create an environment unsafe for citizens who want to voice their dissent in public.
"We have an epidemic in the United States of police using excessive force, particularly against people of color, with injuries and deaths mounting," said Kanya Bennett of the American Civil Liberties Union to NPR. "It defies logic to arm the police with weapons of war — grenade launchers, high-caliber assault weapons and more — but that's precisely what President Trump and Attorney General Sessions have decided to do."
The United States has a long history of abuse against disadvantaged minority groups, and until law enforcement is able to enforce the law without the use of extreme force and military tactics, the equipment Trump and Sessions want to provide are unnecessary and only exasperate the division between the people and the police.
Banner/Thumbnail Credit: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni