Police militarization has been a hot button issue for quite some time, but it wasn’t until last year’s Ferguson riots — which erupted after a jury declined to bring charges against Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown — that President Barack Obama decided to take action.
In May of 2015, the Obama administration decided to ban the sale of certain kinds of military equipment to police departments, leaving local law enforcement agents without access to items such as bayonets, armored vehicles, camouflage uniforms, large-caliber weapons and ammunition, and grenade launchers.
Facing harsh criticism from police, Obama defended his position, claiming, “We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like they’re an occupying force.” Instead, Obama added, we should be working to make police “a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them.”
Now, nearly one year after the Ferguson riots, Obama’s flirtation with demilitarization finally seems to be over.
According to Tech Dirt, the “dismantling of militarized police forces” is being put on hold as “Obama heads for the exit.” The act may have served as a response to the two recent shootings of Dallas and Baton Rouge police officers, Reuters reports.
During a meeting with “law enforcement leaders,” whom Tech Dirt calls “law enforcement lobbyists,” Jim Pasco, the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, and Bill Johnson, the executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, urged Obama and Vice President Joe Biden “to reinstate military equipment such as helmets, grenade launchers and tracked armored vehicles to enhance officers’ safety and their ability to respond to violent riots.”
After the meeting, Pasco said the White House was under the impression that military gear “was intimidating to people, but they didn’t know the purpose it serves.” To the Fraternal Order of Police leader, a grenade launcher can be used to launch tear gas “for crowd control,” for instance.
According to Reuters, Obama urged White House chief legal counsel Neil Eggleston to review the 2015 ban shortly after the meeting.
But despite all the buzz the recent Dallas shooting has caused, Tech Dirt adds, “the recent clustering of officer deaths doesn’t put the nation on track for anything more than an average year of on-duty deaths,” making it hard for law enforcement lobbyists to maintain the position that “police need greater protections now.” [emphasis added]
Unfortunately, Tech Dirt concludes, Obama and Biden seem to have wasted no time “discussing the underlying causes of the protests officers are now facing” while meeting with law enforcement lobbyists. As Tech Dirt noted, none of those causes “will be resolved with increased police militarization.” Instead of standing by his own previous commitment to scale back militarization, Obama was quick to give into police pressure — proving once more that this administration’s seeming willingness to address the root causes behind the issues the United States now faces is nothing more than a slogan.