In his continuing effort to empower police officers to treat protesters like they’re enemies in a war, President Donald Trump today rolled back an executive order from Barack Obama that banned the sale of surplus military equipment to local police forces. This equipment included armored vehicles and heavy weapons and ammunition (including things like grenade launchers), which police forces utilized under great criticism in Ferguson, MO, where they were on full display in use against mostly unarmed rioters and protesters.
When introducing the ban in 2015, Obama said “We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like they’re an occupying force, as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them.”
The Trump administration, meanwhile, described the equipment as “life-saving,” as though the majority of the gear wasn’t comprised of machines designed to kill people as efficiently as possible.
USA Today quoted the assistant director of the NAACP legal defense fund Janai Nelson:
It is both exceptionally dangerous and irresponsible for the administration to lift the ban on the transfer of certain surplus military equipment to state and local law enforcement organizations. Just a few summers ago, our nation watched as Ferguson raised the specter of increased police militarization. The law enforcement response there and in too many places across the country demonstrated how perilous, especially for black and brown communities, a militarized police force can be.
The Task Force on 21st Century Policing added that “the appearance of a military operation” to police mass demonstrations is a tactic that “could undermine civilian trust.”
The surplus sharing agreement dates back 30 years to the War on Drugs, a federal initiative that actively and disproportionately targeted members of minority communities, while enacting harsher penalties on drug users than some murderers or rapists.
Much like the War on Drugs, this action by Trump may seem innocuous to some, but to quote Janai Nelson again, to others “it reflects this administration’s now open effort to escalate racial tensions in our country.”