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How Many Tanks Can We Take Back Before The Next Ferguson?

I recently suggested that we noodle on some methods to de-militarize the police. I wanted to figure out methods that would actually have people look at publicly available communities’ inventory of equipment and demand they get rid of unnecessary items and equipment that is not designed for a police force, but an occupying army.
BrickArms MAAWS firing via Ice Cream Scoops
D.C. national politicians finally weighed in on the topic and before you can say, “Rocket launchers for cops” the national media talked to all the usual players to explain why any effort for change will be blocked, shouted down, ignored or tabled-until the next event.

The New York Times piece, In Washington, Second Thoughts on Arming Policethey point out the the problem and the standard “solution” in one paragraph.

Though violent crime is at its lowest level in a generation and terrorism, despite fears and continuing global threats, remains exceedingly rare on American soil, any effort to significantly cut police funding would be met with sharp opposition from local and state officials and many in Congress. Even if the political will to review the policies exists now, it is not clear whether it will remain when lawmakers return from vacation next month and see the midterm elections on the horizon.

Of course state and local officials will complain about losing government funding.  (Maybe we should tell them it’s for ObamaCare) But since in many cases they aren’t spending their own money, the Federal government can have some control over what they get and the strings attached to the gear we give them.  They might complain, but if the level of funding stays the same, they are likely to grouse less even if they don’t get that tank they had their eye on.

Today I got a note from the Blue America PAC who told the story of how five weeks ago Alan Grayson tried to get an amendment passed to stop funding the extreme militarization of local police department.  It told the sad story of how “45 Democrats voted with the GOP against a bill that would halt using federal taxpayer dollars to arm local police with rocket launchers, tanks, guided missiles, mines, torpedoes, ballistic missiles, toxicological agents, grenade launchers and even nuclear weapons!”

Now Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson is trying to put out a new bill to demilitarize local police in September. It will we watered down or forgotten especially since in Grayson’s case even top democratic leadership weren’t on-board because the lobbyists spread the money around to Democrats and Republicans evenly. Plus, there was no pressure from the people “below” just pressure from the lobbyists “above.” (I use the quotes to remind us that the money always believe their needs are above the people’s.)

The reason that the right wants to slow things down and “get all the facts in” is not because they want all the facts. They are happy to rush to judgement when they like the facts or even fact-like rumors like the “orbital eye socket fracture” of the police officer. (BTW, when that is proved false can I call up the MSM and get the names of the two anonymous sources who lied to them? Don’t you burn sources that lie to you?)

Between now and when the bill comes up again what can we do?

  1. Identifying which current military “assets” are potentially toxic liabilities, will bring bad PR and are lawsuits waiting to happen.
  2. Get that information to the congress people who get visited by the military and defense contractors lobbyists hawking tanks and rocket launchers.  Remind them, “Your city could be the next Ferguson. Maybe ask for different gear this time or a trade for less military equipment.”

I had relatives who were in the business of selling heavy equipment to police departments. The whole process was filled with huge egos and politics but at the time they bought what they felt was needed to serve the community.  That changed after 9/11.  From the same NY Times article:

But the rush to arm America’s police departments made oversight difficult. Grant programs overlapped. Money often flowed to state governments first before arriving in local police departments, making it hard to track. In 2009, auditors cited examples of state governments that could not verify what equipment local authorities had bought.

This was “free” money! It was a race to the government trough to get the coolest equipment. I know these people and their attitudes, especially those in the Midwest. They wanted their fair share of the terrorist fighting gear. Otherwise they felt cheated. “Why should the people in states that have actual terrorist threats get all the gear? We have needs too!”  It was also about not wanting to tax their own community, especially since their tax base had been hit by loss of manufacturing jobs or the tax giveaways the city fathers had cut with the Walmart.

They didn’t want to “leave money on the table” so they made up crazy requests from the military buffet list. When I was a child piling food on my plate my aunt would say, ‘Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” The knew that if they got the crazy military toys the government was not going to repossess them for non-payment.
Blade Roller
We will find we can’t just take their tanks and rocket launchers away, even if we find the silliest of reasons they got them in the first place. But we should try so we can hear the excuses. “Our police would NEVER do what the Ferguson area police did!” By questioning them and forcing them to justify their gear they will know the jig is up.

The days of asking for a tank when you really need a truck are over.  It will also send a message to other local police that the days of getting equipment without training are over too.   These police forces won’t want to lose face on losing equipment, so we suggest they trade them in for items to protect and serve the people,  not to project force and shoot the people.

With pressure from the people “below” and a reworking of what is available from “above” we might get some change.

The federal government also did not typically insist that local authorities be trained on how and when to use its new equipment. In recent days, retired military officers have bristled at the sight of police officers in Missouri walking the streets with guns drawn, pointed at protesters.

As I said before, we don’t start with just demanding training.  But there is a demand for training with everything we say, do and ask for. If it looks like they will lose a toy, get a cut in funding for an old toy or not get any new toys they will eventually come around. I can hear them now,   “Hey, we are totally happy to get trained on this, especially since you are paying. We don’t want to be the next Ferguson or Oakland. Send us to class! Bring someone out to teach us!”

Finally, we don’t send them to  private military contractors for training. We demand community policing training from people who know how to control crowds of citizens, not suppression of potential terrorists.

Photo by enigmabadger Creative Commons license

Photo by Dane Erland Creative Commons license

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