Why does a city, any city, need tanks and grenade launchers? In January 2015, President Obama signed Executive Order #13688 titled “Federal Support for Local Law Enforcement Equipment Acquisition”. The order specified what types of equipment could be purchased by state and local police departments using federal dollars through a Pentagon surplus program. Police departments remained free to buy them with state, local or private funds. The equipment covered included such as tanks, weaponized vehicles, .50 caliber guns, grenade launchers, bayonets and digital-pattern camouflage uniforms.
Last Monday, August 28th, Donald Trump signed another executive order, “Restoring State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement’s Access to Life-Saving Equipment and Resources”, rescinding the above-mentioned Obama order. Nothing unusual there, for Trump has made it clear that if it were in his power, he would simply issue a blanket order undoing every order Obama ever signed. But what catches the eye with this one is the rationale. According to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking to a police convention in Nashville, the order “is rescinding restrictions from the prior administration that limited your agencies’ ability to get equipment through federal programs, including life-saving gear like Kevlar vests and helmets and first-responder and rescue equipment …”
Is it not possible, I wonder, for any member of the current administration to tell the truth … just once in a while? Sessions statement was completely untrue, for Obama’s order did not affect Kevlar vests, helmets, or other commonly required equipment. Now, I ask the question again … Donald Trump, with the blessings of Jeff Sessions, just made it possible for police departments to purchase tanks, grenade launchers and bayonets with federal tax money. But Sessions lied and said Obama had kept them from having helmets and bullet-proof vests.
“The safety of officers was never jeopardized because the overwhelming majority of equipment, including the ones cited by the attorney general, were still available to law enforcement,” according to Ed Chung, a former Justice Department Officer.
The justification for Obama’s original order was widespread public concerns over the display of military-style hardware deployed by police to control riots in Ferguson, Missouri, after an officer fatally shot Michael Brown. Sessions response to those concerns? “We will not put superficial concerns above public safety.” The lies go on, point by point, and if you’re interested, you can read the article in ProPublica.
But my own concern is, as I stated in the beginning: what do police departments DO with grenade launchers and tanks? Why do they NEED military weapons to protect the citizens of a city? The answer to the second question is, they don’t. So what is the answer to the first?
Two thumbs up to the Charlotte, North Carolina police department for saying they do not need the extra equipment. From an Associated Press article on August 31st:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Police in North Carolina’s largest city say they don’t need military equipment to do their jobs.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police spokesman Rob Tufano told local media Wednesday the city will not seek military gear available under an order this week by President Donald Trump.
Trump’s order Monday overturned an order by President Obama in 2015 that limited the kind of military equipment civilian police departments could receive from federal government. That came following the unrest that followed a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.
Tufano said the city sees no reason to obtain military equipment to do its job. Congress created a program in the 1990s to allow local governments to obtain surplus military equipment. Tufano said the city did participate in the 1990s but no longer uses military gear.
I find the very idea of local police having access to tanks, grenade-launchers and the rest to be chilling in today’s climate of so much racial unrest. And when I think of the recent events in Charlottesville, I cannot help but wonder how many more would have died if the police had shown up driving military tanks down the street through the crowd of protestors. In the event of severe disruption in any city in the U.S., the governor has the option to call in the National Guard, men and women who are trained in the use of military equipment.
And once again, I return to the question: what do they DO with it all? The fact that Sessions lied about the reason for the order adds, in my mind, another dimension of concern. Did Trump sign the order simply as part of his ongoing attempt to erase President Obama from the annals of history? Or is there something more? Think about it.