Submitted by Michael Krieger of Liberty Blitzkrieg
Congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia Will Introduce Bill to Stop the Militarization of Police
As I pointed out yesterday in my detailed thoughts on Ferguson, President Obama has once again proved his irrelevance and uselessness by failing to say anything meaningful on the disturbing events of the past week. In fact, he only decided to address it personally and publicly yesterday after being heavily criticized for issuing a press release about the party he attended in Martha’s Vineyard as civilians in Missouri clashed with a paramilitary police force.
Despite Obama’s complete apathy, there are some Congressmen forcefully speaking out against the trend from “both sides” of the increasingly meaningless Republican and Democrat divide. The most noteworthy thus far appears to be Democrat Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia’s 4th Congressional district. In fact, he has sent a Dear Colleague letter to fellow representatives of his intention to introduce the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act in September when Congress returns from recess.
The Hill reports that:
A Democratic congressman from Georgia is drafting legislation to limit a Pentagon program that provides surplus military equipment to local law enforcement.
Rep. Hank Johnson is pushing the legislation amid the situation in Ferguson, Mo., where an armed police presence has taken to the streets after mass protests over a police shooting.
“Our main streets should be a place for business, families, and relaxation, not tanks and M16s,” Johnson wrote in a Dear Colleague letter sent Thursday to other members of Congress.
“As the tragedy in Missouri unfolds, one thing is clear. Our local police are becoming militarized,” Johnson’s office said in a statement.
Johnson said he will introduce the bill in September, when Congress returns from a five-week recess. He has been worked on the legislation for months, but his office said the current situation highlights the need for the bill.
Johnson criticized the Pentagon’s ’1033? program, which offers surplus military equipment to state and local law enforcement, including M16 rifles and mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles (MRAP).
Considering that most mainstream media watching Americans had no idea how out of control the police militarization had become, perhaps Rep. Johnson’s bill has a fighting chance. If it is to pass, bi-partisan support is crucial and this is hopefully one of those issues libertarians and progressives can find common ground on. There is reason to be somewhat optimistic considering Rand Paul’s op-ed in Time yesterday titled: We Must Demilitarize the Police. Here are some excerpts:
If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off. But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.
The outrage in Ferguson is understandable—though there is never an excuse for rioting or looting. There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace, but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response.
The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action.
When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury—national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture—we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands.
The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm. It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime. It is quite another for them to subsidize it.
Americans must never sacrifice their liberty for an illusive and dangerous, or false, security. This has been a cause I have championed for years, and one that is at a near-crisis point in our country.
However, passing such a bill will be no easy task. For example, in June Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) introduced an amendment to H.R. 4435, the National Defense Authorization Act, which would have prohibited funds from being used to transfer certain kinds of military surplus to local police departments. Sadly, the vote wasn’t even close. It failed 62-355, including a no vote from Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), whose district includes Ferguson. Reason reported on this tragedy:
In June, the House of Representatives voted on a series of amendments to H.R. 4435, the National Defense Authorization Act. Among the amendments was one by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) which would’ve prohibited funds from being used to transfer certain kinds of military surplus to local police departments. The amendment failed by a wide margin, with only 62 votes for and 355 against.
Among those voting against this bill, which would slow down the militarization of America’s police forces, was Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), whose district includes Ferguson, Missouri, where many Americans have gotten their first glimpse of America’s militarized police in action.
House leadership on both sides also voted against it, including Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
Establishment bipartisan criminality, as usual.
Supporters of the amendment include the usual civil libertarian suspects, such as Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who called attention to this vote on Twitter earlier today, John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Walter Jones (R-NC), Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), John Lewis (D-Ga.), who nevertheless called for martial law in Ferguson, Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Mark Sanford (R-SC). Fourteen other Republicans and 43 other Democrats voted for the amendment.
See how your representative voted here.
Optimism for Rep. Johnson’s bill should come from the fact the issue has been thrust front and center due to recent events in Ferguson. That said, like anything else in American politics, actually passing legislation in the best interests of the American public is almost impossible due to the overwhelming influence of special interest money. Indeed, David Sirota noted earlier today that:
According to data compiled by Maplight, the lawmakers “voting to continue funding the 1033 Program have received, on average, 73 percent more money from the defense industry than representatives voting to defund it.” In all, the average lawmaker voting against the bill received more than $50,000 in campaign donations from the defense industry in the last two years. The report also found that of the 59 lawmakers who received more than $100,000 from defense contractors in the last two years, only four voted for Grayson’s legislation.
Given the reality of defense company spending, this battle will not be an easy one. This is why I ask you to spread this post around and contract your Senators and Representatives to make it clear this issue is very important to you and you will be watching how they vote.