Obama: Time to review local police militarization

Calling for a sharp separation between the nation's armed forces and local police, President Barack Obama on Monday urged a re-examination of programs that have equipped civilian law enforcement departments with military gear from the Pentagon.
AP Wire
Aug 19, 2014

 

The transfers have come under public scrutiny after the forceful police response to racially charged unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.

Amid video images of well-armed police confronting protesters with combat weapons and other surplus military equipment, Obama said it would be useful to review how local law enforcement agencies have used federal grants that permit them to obtain heavier armaments.

"There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don't want those lines blurred," Obama told reporters at the White House. "That would be contrary to our traditions."

Obama's remarks came as he called for understanding in the face of anger in Ferguson in the wake of a police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old black man. Obama said the vast majority of protesters in the St. Louis suburb were peaceful, but said that a small minority was undermining justice for the shooting victim, Michael Brown.

The initial police reaction to the protests drew attention to the militarization of local police departments, with critics arguing that the heavily-armed police presence only fueled the tensions. Attorney General Eric Holder and several lawmakers have suggested that the practice of supplying police with such military surplus be reconsidered. A report by the American Civil Liberties Union in June said police agencies had become "excessively militarized," with officers using training and equipment designed for the battlefield on city streets.

Obama said he also spoke to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon about Nixon's deployment of National Guard units to help secure Ferguson, urging the governor to ensure that the guard be used in a "limited and appropriate way."

"I'll be watching over the next several days, to assess whether, in fact, it's helping rather than hindering progress in Ferguson," he said.

Pausing briefly in the middle of his summer vacation, Obama expressed sympathy for the "passions and anger" sparked by Brown's death. But he said giving in to that anger through looting and attacks on police only stirs tensions and leads to further chaos. He said overcoming the mistrust endemic between many communities and their local police would require Americans to "listen and not just shout."

"That's how we're going to move forward together, by trying to unite each other and understand each other and not simply divide ourselves from one another," Obama told reporters at the White House.

Obama said Holder would travel to Ferguson this week to meet with FBI and other officials carrying out an independent federal investigation into Brown's death. Separately, Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr., whose district includes Ferguson, told Democratic lawmakers Monday that he will meet with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to push for changes in the program that provides military equipment to local police departments.

Appearing in the White House briefing room in a dress shirt but no tie, Obama also spoke for the first time to the racial tensions and grievances perceived by African-Americans in Ferguson. In previous comments about the situation, Obama had avoided talking directly about race, wary of rushing to judgment or further inflaming the situation.

Weighing his words carefully, Obama said it was clear that disparities in how blacks and whites are treated and sentenced must be addressed, calling for more safeguards and training to prevent missteps. At the same time, he acknowledged the difficult situation that police officers sometimes face.

"There are young black men that commit crime. We can argue about why that happened — because the poverty they were born into or the school systems that failed them or what have you— but if they commit a crime, then they need to be prosecuted," Obama said. "Because every community has an interest in public safety."

Brown was unarmed when he was fatally shot by a police officer on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, a predominantly black community that long has been at odds with the mostly white police department. Results of an independent autopsy released Monday by Brown's family determined that Brown was shot at least six times, including twice in the head.

Obama's remarks on the crisis were the first since the situation in Ferguson escalated over the weekend, with Nixon, the Missouri governor, ordering a midnight curfew for Ferguson and ordering the National Guard to help restore order. Nixon lifted that curfew on Monday, but tensions remained high the morning after police once again deployed tear gas in response to what they said were reports of gunfire, looting and vandalism by protesters.

Obama weighed in on the crisis during a brief break in his annual summer vacation at Martha's Vineyard, where the president was spending two weeks with his family while juggling multiple crises in the U.S. and overseas. Obama returned to the White House late Monday and planned to return to the Massachusetts island on Tuesday. His brief return to Washington had been announced by the White House before the standoff in Ferguson began.

Comments

dyankee

Obama:"Time for you to step down"

Mystic Michael

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks.

Grassyass

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks.

Mystic Michael

What's idiotic is the incessant drumbeat of brain-dead Obama-bashing snark that seems to pop up in the comments section of virtually any article related to the federal government - and many other articles that are unrelated in any way.

Five years ago, it was merely sophomoric. Three years ago it was merely childish. A year ago it was merely infantile.

By now it's simply stupid. But then, far be it from me to get into a pissing match with the likes of you. As Mark Twain is alleged to have said: "Never argue with stupid people. They will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.'

owell

Tranquility M&M. Calm down guy. With things so bad, they can only get better. Hope and change is just around the corner.

Lanivan

This is an important action on the part of Obama. In 2002, along with the creation of yet another Bush Big Government program, Homeland Security, the militarization of law enforcement exploded, after beginning to take hold in the '80's under Reagan and his administration's "War on Drugs".

"Homeland Security Act of 2002, which amended the IG Act to grant inspectors "full law enforcement authority to carry firearms, make arrests and execute search warrants." The law was sponsored by then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), passed with a heavily Republican majority (207-10 in favor, versus 88-110 among Democrats), passed overwhelmingly in the Senate (90-9, with no Republicans voting against), and then signed into law by President George W. Bush. The blunt truth is that after 9/11, a vast majority of elected conservatives want to arm the bejeebus out of the feds, with little or no deliberation about long-term consequences."

To quote Richard Armey, "President George W. Bush has heeded this call. He has asked us to undertake the most significant transformation of our government in half a century." Yes - this is the same Dick Armey who left Congress to head up Freedomwworks, the self-proclaimed conservative/libertarian lobbying group, bank-rolled, in part, by.....the Koch Bros. http://911research.wtc7.net/post...

http://capitolwords.org/date/200...

An interesting component to those who are supporters of the militarization of law enforcement is the supposed need for law enforcement to have para-military equipment to protect themselves from police attacks and subsequent deaths.

How many police died while on duty last year?

105. Most due to automobile accidents. http://www.odmp.org/search/year?...

How many police homicides, justified or unjustified, took place in 2013? Well - that's tough to calculate, since nobody knows for sure. But fivethirtyeight came up with a number.....a little more than 105. http://fivethirtyeight.com/featu...

nextdoor

What do you suggest the police just allow looting and destroying private property.

Lanivan

Absolutely not! Looters should be apprehended, and face the full brunt of the law. But peaceful demonstrators, journalists, and 90-year old holocaust victims should not have military assault weapons, armored tanks, and tear gas pointed at or thrown at them, or be assaulted and arrested, just because.

The looting, in this case, is apparently the work of a few who have come into Ferguson for the sole reason to take advantage of the situation. They are a diversions from the actual problem. I hope the looters are being arrested and put in jail, as they deserve to be.

Mystic Michael

Are you suggesting that the police need armored personnel carriers, tanks, attack helicopters, high-capacity machine guns, and full sets of storm trooper body armor - in order to arrest a few looters? Since when have looters been packing anti-tank weapons, surface to air missiles, and planting mines?

Barry Soetoro

Sure, those same toys can be used when the local police have to serve a no-knock warrant on the granny who is suspected of selling weed from her trailer.

Tri-cities realist

Lanny, while you prefer to blame Bush and the Repubs for virtually everything, you may need to look further back for the impetus to better arm local police. I believe that the north Hollywood bank robbery in 1997 was that event. You may recall that the 2 perps wore body armor and used fully automatic weapons, while most of the police carried .38s, 9mm, and a few shotguns. They had to borrow AR-15s (gasp) from a local arms dealer, until the more heavily armed SWAT team arrived.
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/N...
Frankly it is a virtual miracle that the only people killed were the bank robbers. I'm not defending the idea of the local police being armed to the teeth, but I understand why they feel the need to do so. SWAT teams aren't always readily available at a moment's notice. But I am concerned about the police being heavily armed which may lead to a more cavalier attitude.

As for the events in Missouri, I am attempting to refrain from commenting until the legal process ensues, but I'll admit, this is difficult with all of the spinmeisters out there.

Lanivan

I didn't know about the bank robbery of 1997. That situation was a little different than Ferguson, which was a police response to a civil disturbance, not a crime. My understanding is that, initially, the protestors were unarmed and controlled. It was the heavy-handed, heavily-armed police presence that really riled up the crowd.

This link highlights the para-military gear used by local Ferguson law enforcement, beginning with the first night of peaceful demonstrations. The police were outfitted with more body armor and military gear than soldiers in Iraq. How could this not lead to agitation, fear, and anger by the demonstrators? http://www.vox.com/2014/8/18/600...

As for the rest of it, - conflicting reports, police manipulation of information being revealed, escalating violence - I'm with you - let's wait for the legal process to begin before commencing with the comments.

Tri-cities realist

I'm not defending the actions of the police in Ferguson, nor demanding prosecution (unlike the governor of MO, who was also the state's attorney general for 16 years) until the grand jury has investigated.

My point about the bank robbery of 1997, was that it likely wasn't 9/11 that started the ball rolling to militarization of the police. I'm sure the war on drugs had some effect, as well as 9/11, but you can't just blame the Republicans. You know, looking at the bigger picture here, as you so often suggest.

I'm happy to hear that you agree we should let the legal process run its course.

Lanivan

I'm merely reflecting on the historical, factual timeline. Most accounts trace the trend to militarize local police back to the '60's, with a big boost during the War on Drugs, and then exploded after 9/11. This makes sense - of course the public wants local law enforcement of major cities and metropolitan, heavily-populated areas to have all the equipment necessary in the event of a terrorist attack.

But when the Ferguson police pull out the stops to confront a civil disturbance made up largely of local residents, it is understandable when people object.

By the way, I voted for Reagan twice, George H.W. Bush twice, and George W. Bush once. My highlighting activity that happened under their watch is strictly a relaying of the facts. Most of my "blame" is saved for the current Congressional Conservative Republicans, who are running amok, with tremendous damage to their party, their country, and their constituents.

Wolverine49457

That community and all other communities need to raise respectful and law abiding children who respect others property, otherwise if the community refuses and allows a neighborhood to foster drugs and criminals then what is law enforcement to do ask a dozen times and then say please really hard?
You two tend to focus new ways to blame Bush to keep centered on your socialism agenda and protect a president way over his head while communities just like this one are festering and depressed in their lives of lack created by misguided compassion of cold government just to get votes and stay in power. The DNC set up a tent near where the young man fell with a voter registration drive as though voting for a certain party will ease their suffering and change things…how about you both write them a carefully worded message reflecting your vigor in blaming Bush for everything in posts and blogs to assure them this will end their lack and suffering, you are both uncompassionate fools.

Mystic Michael

Not that any of this has anything to do with the actual topic of the article, right? Not that lack of relevance has ever slowed you down before.

Let's just hold Bush & Cheney accountable only for those things for which Bush & Cheney are actually culpable - and no more. That alone should keep the country busy for the next 20 years.

If you think that tossing around four-letter epithets will distract from your glaring lack of a coherent argument, sorry. You lose again.

Vladtheimp

BREAKING NEWS: ST. LOUIS COPS MURDER DIFFERENTLY-ABELED CITIZEN ARMED ONLY WITH TABLEWARE.

Crowd takes off from work to go to the scene chanting hands up don't shoot. http://fox2now.com/2014/08/19/of...

MaHubah

Those "people" in Ferguson create their own narrative with help from lamestream media and agitators to loot,destroy,etc... O'dramas vision hasn't worked out so well for them, so their going to capitalize on this crisis. This isn't like the Rodney King incident as time will tell. Brown was a bully and indifferent to authority as evidence will show. Next step should be mandatory helmets for cops equipped with camera. No need for all the military hardware. Just some helmets with cameras to show the "people" of Ferguson that the choir boy sang a different tune.

Lanivan

Who do you have in mind when you put "people" in quotations? Black people? White people? Journalists - both white and black from around the world? The Ferguson police? The National Guard? The Missouri State police? The family of Michael Brown?

Please be specific. I do like your idea of helmets with cameras, which would be helpful in this particular killing, as the story from Officer Wilson appears to be very different from many of those who witnessed the entire event.

Vladtheimp

Whoa there, cowgirl. The one eyewitness we know of (his robber buddy) lied and caused much of this mess by saying the police officer shot him in the back - untrue from two autopsies.

Officer Wilson has not given a public statement but a woman who claims she is close to Wilson's significant other told his story, which has been corroborated, on video. I would link it but it is from the neighborhood and is so full of profanity that it wouldn't be acceptable in Grand Haven, even if it is in Ferguson.

A reporter for the St. Louis Dispatch has said Police claim they have more than a dozen witnesses support the cop’s account of the Michael Brown shooting. http://hotair.com/archives/2014/...

Mystic Michael

Wait a minute: "...a woman who 'claims' she is close to Wilson's significant other" told Wilson's story? Though it's now 10 days after the fact, yet no public word yet from Wilson himself? Right.

I guess this roundabout hearsay is as close as it gets to established fact in Vlad World, yeah?

The police - again 'claim' - that they have more than a dozen corroborating witnesses...yet there are numerous people who live right in the neighborhood where Michael Brown died, who saw the whole thing go down, yet the police still have not contacted them and have not interviewed them - 10 days and counting after the killing itself. What are they waiting for? For the memories of the eyewitnesses to become foggy with time, so that they can ultimately be discredited by a cunning defense lawyer at trial?

Why have the results of the official local autopsy still not been released to the public? Why was Michael Brown shot six times - although it has already been established that he was unarmed, and that he posed no immediate danger to Officer Wilson? Why was he gunned down in the street - just as he was trying to surrender? Why did the police prevent local medical professionals from administering CPR to him? Why have the local authorities refused to allow the Brown family's forensic pathology team access to Michael Brown's clothing, and to his toxicology report? Why has the Ferguson Police Department been working overtime to try to posthumously smear Michael Brown, prior to make public statements about the killing - such as the report that Brown had marijuana in his system, etc? And why have the police been going out of their way to rough up, intimidate, and arrest journalists?

If they have nothing to hide, then why are they behaving as if they've been hiding information?

Vladtheimp

Apparently reality is outside of your world. The ONE eyewitness cited by the media has been proven a liar - period.

".yet there are numerous people who live right in the neighborhood where Michael Brown died, who saw the whole thing go down,yet the police still have not contacted them and have not interviewed them - 10 days and counting after the killing itself - source for this, other than the mystical mind?

Posed no danger to the police officer? 6 foot 4 290 lb robber who caused “orbital blowout fracture to the eye socket.” What part of self defense, police officer or not, escapes your intelligentsia?

You sir, are a tool! Here is a scenario that you can dispute at your will. http://legalinsurrection.com/201...

Maybe if you were a white guy or minority business person or franchisee who lives in Ferguson instead of the Upper West Side of New Yawk you could emphasize with the problem.

owell

"Why was Michael Brown shot six times - although it has already been established that he was unarmed, and that he posed no immediate danger to Officer Wilson?"??????? Established? By you? M&M you are as bad as the media. You are the problem.

echo5oscar

3 people witnessed the entire event, Officer Wilson, Dorian Johnson, and Michael Brown. Johnson has proved to be a liar.

Lanivan

Yeah - And like Trayvon, Brown is dead and can't tell his side of the story, and Wilson is sequestered away on paid leave.

There are now at least 5 eyewitnesses to the murder. This article does not include a more recent eyewitness account from "anonymous man" who called into the St. Louis newspaper. http://www.dailykos.com/story/20...

echo5oscar

Gee, that isn't a slanted article, is it?

Lanivan

I dunno - is it? Do you want it to be slanted? If so, then I suppose it is.

MaHubah

"That would be contrary to our traditions" so says O'drama. Priceless. Trampling over our Constitution does not count apparently. "People" unlike animals have the ability to reason and think logically based upon the facts. If those facts don't become readily available,"people" should reserve judgement until due process is served as proscribed by our Constitution which O'drama ignores. How ironic that the 3rd dunce of the Confederacy (Holder), is going to Ferguson tomorrow. Maybe if the"people" watched Investigation ID instead of Entertainment Tonight they would put down their picket signs. The bad crowd will still loot and destroy, not unlike ISIS (their new recruiter) Keep watching your CNBC to reaffirm how he was shot in the back and all the other misinformation. The court will decide, not the "people"

MaHubah

O'drama urges Missouri Gov to use the National Guard be used in a limited way. Dumbo is becoming conservative!

Boycotter

no Hope & Change until Jesus returns . . . plain and simple

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