Having enabled billions of dollars worth of militarized equipment to be unloaded into every police department in the nation - only to have alienated the very Americans that hoped for change the most - it appears President Obama is ready to uncross another red line. Following unrest in U.S. cities over the deaths of black men at the hands of police officers, Reuters reports, during his triup to Camden NJ, Obama announced his plans to put in place new restrictions on the use of military equipment by police departments.
Just six months ago, President Obama was discussing increasing the funding for the militarization of America's police force.
Now, after various riots, deaths, and police excess, he appears to be flip-flopping away from that idea...
As Reuters reports,
Obama will ban police use of equipment such as explosive-resistant vehicles with tracked wheels like those seen on army tanks, the White House said in a fact sheet. For other types of equipment, such as MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected) vehicles and riot shields, departments will have to provide added justification for their use.
In the aftermath of the Baltimore riots, Obama has been speaking out more about race, including in a speech in the Bronx on increasing opportunity for young minority men and during a panel discussion on poverty in Washington.
"Race issues have been more present over the past year for this country. We've seen, since Ferguson, issues that have been bubbling up in communities becoming much more present," said Rashad Robinson, executive director of colorofchange.org, a group that aims to strengthen the black community's political voice in America.
Obama's remarks in Camden will be the fourth time in as many weeks that he has held an event to discuss his ideas for improving life for poor black communities. Obama, the country's first black president, has often been reticent about discussing race issues.
"We’ve seen how militarized gear sometimes gives people a feeling like they are an occupying force as opposed to a part of the community there to protect them," Obama said during remarks in Camden, N.J. "Some equipment made for the battlefield is not appropriate for local police departments."
The nation's largest police union denounced the president's move, saying he has overstated the problem, but as his base appears to be alienated by his actions, The Washington Post reports,
“The issue of militarization has been really kind of exaggerated almost to the point that I don’t recognize it at times,” said James Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police. “The vast majority of the equipment that civilian law enforcement gets from the military is administrative stuff or defensive in nature.”
The ban on items will take effect immediately, White House officials said, while the restrictions on other gear will be phased in so that local law enforcement agencies can be briefed about the new requirements.
"The idea is to make sure we strike the right balance of providing equipment that is appropriate and important, while at the same time put standards in place that give a clear reason for the transfer of that equipment, with clear training and safety provisions in place," Cecilia Muñoz, the White House director of domestic policy, told reporters in a conference call on Sunday.
As he has over the past months, Obama sought to tread a careful line between calling on police officers and members of the community to do more to improve the relationship between them. The president emphasized that pervasive hopelessness in the inner city is driven in large part by a lack of educational and economic opportunities.
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Meanwhile, anti-police brutality and law enforcement reform groups were more measured, praising the move by the Obama administration but painting it as a small step in what they believe will be a long process to reform American policing.
“We know that reforming 1033 or putting limits on military equipment is not going to be enough,” said Dante Barry, executive director of Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, one of the groups born in response to the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012. “Any reform done to policing must be systemic and transformative," said Barry, who has played a role in organizing the Black Lives Matter protests that have occurred nationwide since Michael Brown was killed. "Militarized police culture, surveillance technologies and equipment must all be looked at if we are to see an end of police militarization in our communities.”