Thursday, November 13, 2014
National League of Cities Prepares to Pressure Congress for More Military Equipment
As an expected grand jury decision could arrive this week in the case of the white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shooting and killing black Ferguson resident Michael Brown. Brown, who was unarmed when confronted by officer Wilson, died after being shot six times. Brown's killing triggered long existing tensions between police and the residents, resulting in riots, and then protests in Ferguson. The rebellion in Ferguson also sparked a national debate in response to the images of the police and how the military grade weapons and equipment used to quash the protests got into the hands of the police.
The militarized show of force in the small community of Ferguson shattered any illusions that it was only the major cities that relied on such equipment. The proliferation of military equipment and weapons into small town police departments could be traced to America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and had its origins in the drug war hysteria of the late 1980s. This movement of surplus military goods from the US military to police departments, both big and small, is run out of the Defense Logistics Agency's the Department of Defense Excess Property Program, or more commonly known as the 1033 program.
This program faced a critical review from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in the wake of the Ferguson rebellion, with senators questioning why the Department of Defense continues to provide used, and often new weapons to local police departments. Despite the increased coverage from journalists, outrage from protesters, and scrutiny from senators, the program is not without its supporters (principally law enforcement) and the advocacy group the National League of Cities may be joining them.
The National League of Cities (NLC) is an advocacy group for more than "19,000 cities, villages and towns it represents," and one of the key tasks of the NLC is to influence federal policy by lobbying Congress. The NLC will be holding the Congress of Cities, their annual conference, later this month in Austin, Texas. Among the resolutions up for a vote during the meeting is a pro-1033 program resolution passed by the Public Safety and Crime Prevention (PSCP) Steering Committee during their annual meeting held in Tempe this past September.
The resolution supporting the 1033 program takes into account that the majority of the equipment received from the Department of Defense are "non-military" items, such as office equipment, computers and recording gear, and other supplies for disaster response. However, the resolution makes note of the criticisms raised over the transfer of specifically military hardware, such as "Humvees, mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles, aircraft (rotary and fixed wing), boats, sniper scopes and M-16s."
While these concerns are noted, the resolution highlights the use of military equipment in the response to the Boston Marathon bombing, and "other incidents where police officers have been under attack by heavily armed criminals." The resolution concludes by supporting increased pressure on the Presidential administration and Congress to "ensure local law enforcement agencies continue to have access to the 1033 program." The PSCP Steering Committee approved the resolution, as confirmed in an email response from Yucel Ors, the NLC's Program Director of Public Safety & Crime Prevention. Ors explained that the next step is for the resolution to be voted on by the full membership of the PSCP committee, then, if passed, it will face a final vote by the NLC's membership during the annual meeting.
There is much to worry about for the residents of Ferguson in the coming days. Amnesty International denounced the human rights abuses committed by the assembled law enforcement agencies against those protesting the police. Ferguson residents ready for the repressive police presence, comparing the possible upheaval from the grand jury decision as akin to "getting prepared for war." Ferguson police are indeed also gearing up for war, preparing to turn the city streets of Ferguson into a war zone once again, having spent $100,000 on new helmets, shields and batons, in addition to restocking their supplies of pepper spray, smoke canisters and rubber bullets. If the NLC's membership approves the 1033 resolution this month, then they will have joined the side of the domestic militarists in working to persuade Congress to keep the flow of military weapons and gear into police agencies for the foreseeable future.