Rep. Hank Johnson has proposed to prohibit the Pentagon from passing along to local and state police.
Just one problem: The program has considerable Democratic support and opposition to reducing its budget. That became apparent two months ago when Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida could only muster 62 votes, including his own, for cutting funding and limiting what kind of hardware could be transferred from the Pentagon to local police agencies. Democrats opposed Grayson on the move by a 3-1 margin. And the majority included 35 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Jennifer Bendery, Ryan Grim and Zach Carter report:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a leading voice for progressives, says it’s time to reassess the way the program is carried out, not end it altogether.And it's the same story with Johnson's legislation. It would not eliminate transfers of all the flat-panel monitors, kneepads, communications and similar gear from 1033. Instead, the Pentagon would no longer be allowed to provide local law enforcement with: automatic weapons not generally recognized as particularly suitable for law enforcement purposes, including those that are .50 caliber or greater; tactical vehicles, including highly mobile multi-wheeled vehicles, armored vehicles, and mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles; armored drones; aircraft; flash-bang or stun grenades; and silencers.
“The Leader supports examining the overall federal effort of giving military-type equipment to local police departments,” said a Pelosi spokeswoman. “Cutting off all funding—like the Grayson amendment—is a blunt instrument, but oversight and appropriate scale of funding for such programs need to be examined.”
But Grayson's legislation wouldn't have cut off all funding for the Pentagon program—instead, it would have banned funding for a specific set of heavy-duty gear, including grenade launchers, toxicological agents and drones, all of which may legally be transferred to police departments under current law.
Although the hurdles to getting this modest legislation passed are high, there is some sense of movement in the matter. Unnamed congressional aides say support will grow for Johnson's proposal or similar legislation. Getting there will require amplifying the voices of the likes of Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen, who says that wartime weapons are inappropriate for use "against our own citizens when there is civil unrest and civil protest. Even if it got to the point where it did where they are breaking some glass, that's no reason to come with the amount of force and appearance that was brought by the police in Ferguson."
Indeed, it's not. But we can expect repeats of situations like Ferguson's and against protesters elsewhere as long as police are armed and uniformed like soldiers and act akin to invading armies instead of community protectors. To reiterate what I've said before, it will take more than a change in hardware to fix the police. But de-militarizing local law enforcement would be a good start. Please show your support for Rep. Johnson's proposal.