Obama Review Of Military Gear Handed To Law Enforcement; Thinks Real Problem Is 'Training And Guidance'
from the emptiest-of-gestures dept
President Obama, most likely prompted by the invasion of Ferguson by armed forces, has called for a review of military equipment provided to local police departments by the same government he presides over. Presumably, this isn't the sort of "review" he has in mind.
Not that local law enforcement agencies couldn't throw an impressive Victory Day parade. The 1033 program, which sends military vehicles, weapons and equipment downstream to law enforcement agencies for pennies on the dollar, has shifted $4.3 billion from the Dept. of Defense to hundreds of police departments across the United States since 1997. Here's what the President is actually interested in seeing.
"Among other things, the president has asked for a review of whether these programs are appropriate," said a senior administration official, who was not authorized to speak on the record about the internal assessment. The review also will assess "whether state and local law enforcement are provided with the necessary training and guidance; and whether the federal government is sufficiently auditing the use of equipment obtained through federal programs and funding."In other words, don't expect much to change, and not any time soon (if at all). "Training and guidance" are just fancy words for mandated Powerpoint presentations and initials from all officers required to attend these sessions. There's not much in here that indicates the government will start recalling equipment from over-armed law enforcement agencies. And as we all know, the government is objectively terrible at auditing itself. It's especially terrible when it comes to entities engaged in drug/terrorism wars. Let's not forget the Attorney General's office has yet to compile its required yearly roundup of excessive force statistics... for the 20th year in a row.
We can also expect a whole lot of nothing considering how many government agencies will be allowed to meddle with review process. The full list (so far) includes a fair number of entities whose self-interest will far outweigh their desire to make the United States a better place for its citizens.
The official said the review will be led by White House staff, including the Domestic Policy Council, the National Security Council and the Office of Management and Budget, along with the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, Treasury.Speaking of the Attorney General: Eric Holder, who recently visited Ferguson, Missouri, made the following statement in nominal support of the review.
“This equipment flowed to local police forces because they were increasingly being asked to assist in counterterrorism,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement Saturday. “But displays of force in response to mostly peaceful demonstrations can be counterproductive. It makes sense to take a look at whether military-style equipment is being acquired for the right purposes and whether there is proper training on when and how to deploy it.”Yes, "because terrorism" is the justification listed most often on War Machine Requisition Requests [Short Form]. The federal government is as much to blame as anybody, willing to oblige even the most paranoiac request with an explosive-resistant vehicle and a handful of assault rifles. But if you hand over a bunch of war toys to combat-ready cops desperately in search of a war, they'll create one if the public isn't willing to oblige.
Agencies cite domestic terrorism fears and then use the guns and vehicles for basic warrant service. Local SWAT teams, which are now more heavily armed than the military itself, are deployed for increasingly mundane tasks. And when finally given a reason to break out all of its acquisitions, officers roll up on the First Amendment in armored vehicles with gunmen on top and fire tear gas into/at crowds using grenade launchers.
As populist as this move is by the administration, it's still preferable to it doing nothing in the wake of the Ferguson debacle. I'd say we'll have to wait and see what comes of this, but I think we can pretty much agree that it's more noise than substance. It's been well over a decade since the US government decided fighting terrorism was Job #1 and nothing has really been rolled back since. We're finally seeing some pushback against dragnet surveillance, but that's something that has been forced on the government by a series of leaks, rather than a top-down initiative spearheaded by either of the two administrations presiding over US v. Terror.
Over-militarization isn't a new problem. It's just suddenly a highly visible problem. Inevitably, Ferguson will recede into the background and the President's review will just be another directive that's ignored or half-assed by a plethora of agencies who feel there's ultimately nothing wrong with deputizing the nation's police forces into the War on Terror and handing them equipment to use against non-terrorists. Let's not forget that behind every self-interested agency stands a number of self-interested corporations whose main goal is to secure lucrative, long-lasting contracts. No one listed above has any interest in tightening their belts, being more responsible about the distribution of military equipment or dialing back the marketing of terrorism as an all-encompassing, existential threat.
The President isn't interested either, but he had to respond to the situation somehow. And this is it: a highly-symbolic directive meant to address something the government only views as a fleeting concern, rather than the ongoing problem it actually is.