In what critics are characterizing as a "dangerous" move in the direction of a fully militarized police force, the Trump administration is reportedly gearing up to reverse a partial ban on the transfer of surplus military equipment to police departments, according to documents obtained by USA Today.
"The president's decision to make this change in the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville reflects this administration's now open effort to escalate racial tensions in our country."
—Janai Nelson, LDF
Civil rights groups immediately raised alarm. Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), said in a statement Sunday night that the Trump administration's plan would "give law enforcement unfettered access to equipment that has been used to intimidate communities of color, with little to no training or oversight."
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is expected to officially outline the administration's decision in a speech on Monday to the Fraternal Order of Police, America's largest police union.
The New York Times noted that it is "not immediately clear why Mr. Sessions would announce changes to a Pentagon program, but he has rolled back several Obama-era policing reforms and helped bolster the Trump administration's support among law enforcement."
"The new plan," explains USA Today's Kevin Johnson, "would roll back an Obama administration executive order that blocked armored vehicles, large-caliber weapons, ammunition, and other heavy equipment from being re-purposed from foreign battlefields to America's streets."
The administration's action would restore "the full scope of a longstanding program for recycling surplus, lifesaving gear from the Department of Defense, along with restoring the full scope of grants used to purchase this type of equipment from other sources,'' according to a administration summary of the new program recently circulated to some law enforcement groups.
Limits on the transfer of excess military equipment to local police departments were first implemented by former President Barack Obama in 2015 following outrage and widespread criticism of law enforcement's militaristic response to protests over the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.
"[L]ocal authorities... have employed armored vehicles, noise-based crowd-control devices, shotguns, M4 rifles like those used by forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, rubber-coated metal pellets, and tear gas," the Washington Post reported at the time.
Announcing his decision to impose restrictions on what equipment police can receive from the military, 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."
"Welp. There's the fascism."
Trump said he wished police officers would be more "rough" with suspects—a comment that was widely condemned as a presidential endorsement of police brutality.
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Commentators responded to indications that Trump is looking to further militarize U.S. police with similar alarm.
"What you saw in Ferguson is what the Trump administration is proposing for all police in the U.S.," wrote Buzzfeed's Jason Leopold.
"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," added LDF's Janai Nelson. "The president's decision to make this change in the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville and against a backdrop of frayed relations between police and communities of color further reflects this administration's now open effort to escalate racial tensions in our country."
There's the fascism. https://t.co/xDuLktCxlu
— Emily G, Cville. (@EmilyGorcenski) August 27, 2017
— Jesse Lehrich (@JesseLehrich) August 27, 2017
— Andrew Stroehlein (@astroehlein) August 28, 2017