Donald Trump wants to undo the Obama legacy of demilitarizing the police, with an executive order rolling back the limits his predecessor placed on military equipment for state and local law enforcement agencies.
Welcome back to the war on drugs, the war on communities of color, the criminalization of Black people and social justice movements. This is a reminder that under the Trump administration, the police create an “us vs. them” mentality and assume the role of an occupying force rather than a partner to protect and serve the Black community. Coming from this president, this was predictable, but outrageous nonetheless.
In his executive order signed Monday, Trump reversed the Obama executive order 13688 (pdf), which prohibited the transfer of the following surplus military gear from the Department of Defense to local police agencies:
Tracked Armored Vehicles: Vehicles that provide ballistic protection to their occupants and utilize a tracked system instead of wheels for forward motion.
Weaponized Aircraft, Vessels, and Vehicles of Any Kind: These items will be prohibited from purchase or transfer with weapons installed.
Firearms of .50‐Caliber or Higher
Ammunition of .50‐Caliber or Higher
Grenade Launchers: Firearm or firearm accessory designed to launch small explosive projectiles.
Bayonets: Large knives designed to be attached to the muzzle of a rifle/shotgun/long gun for the purposes of hand‐to‐hand combat.
Camouflage Uniforms: Does not include woodland or desert patterns or solid color uniforms.
A working group had recommended to Obama that this equipment be prohibited on the grounds that it is militaristic in nature, runs a substantial risk of misuse and overuse, is inconsistent with civilian law enforcement and would undermine community trust. The reforms came in the wake of the heavy-handed police response to Ferguson protests.
“We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them,” Obama said back then. “It can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message.”
So, why does Trump think your local cops should use tanks, camo, grenade launchers and even bayonets? First of all, this was on the wish list of the Fraternal Order of Police, who endorsed Trump for president, and wanted him to give back their army toys so much, they placed it on the top of their priorities.
Second, you can’t have a war on Black people without the weapons of war. Trump and his attorney general Jeff Sessions have promised “law and order” and a crackdown on the Black communities they characterize as crime-ridden and gang-infested.
While white Americans receive sympathy and treatment in light of the opioid epidemic, Black and Brown folks get legalized racial profiling, stop and frisk, and the war on drugs. The military hardware and the accompanying Gestapo-like crackdowns are necessary to justify the mass incarceration of Black people.
If you claim, as does Trump, that these people are a criminal element in need of head bashing, what better way to prove it than to send in an army after them? If the Trump administration and law enforcement are at war with Black people, Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements–as some police groups and the NRA suggest–why not let the police come correct, and dress the part of an occupying force?
Finally, this is all about money. Trump and his cohorts are gangster capitalists who stand to make a profit from a militarized, law and order police state using taxpayer money. A highly weaponized police state makes arms manufacturers happy, and it is no accident that this White House has restored draconian mandatory minimum drug sentencing and the federal use of private prisons, a boon for the for-profit prison industry. Plus, Trump has made no secret that he likes dictators such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who suppresses free speech and assassinates journalists and political opponents, and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who has murdered thousands in a war against suspected drug dealers. Strong men will roll up on you, rip you off and kill you.
Addressing the F.O.P. in Nashville, U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions said the Obama restrictions on military hardware went too far. “We will not put superficial concerns above public safety,” Sessions said. “The executive order the president will sign today will ensure that you can get the lifesaving gear that you need to do your job and send a strong message that we will not allow criminal activity, violence, and lawlessness to become the new normal. And we will save taxpayer money in the meantime.”
“We have an epidemic in the United States of police using excessive force, particularly against people of color, with injuries and deaths mounting,” said Kanya Bennett, legislative counsel at the Washington Legislative Office of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It defies logic to arm the police with weapons of war—grenade launchers, high-caliber assault weapons, and more—but that’s precisely what President Trump and Attorney General Sessions have decided to do.”
Bennett noted that three years ago this month, there was a violent and highly militarized crackdown on protesters in Ferguson, leading to the Obama administration’s restrictions on military equipment the Trump executive order effectively erases. “Tensions between law enforcement and communities remain high, yet the president and the attorney general are giving the police military-grade weaponry instead of practical, effective ways to protect and serve everyone,” she added. In its report, the ACLU warned the militarization of the police creates unnecessary violence, brings tragedy to police and civilians alike, destroys property and erodes civil liberties.
The question that must be asked is, do the police really need grenade launchers, tanks and Kevlar? Trump and the F.O.P. think they do. Nothing to see here except the militarization of the police, and the ongoing occupation of the Black community.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter @davidalove.