Obama demands that Washtenaw County return its armored vehicle to the Defense Department, leaving us vulnerable to invading armies

Remember how, in the wake of the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, we discussed, among other things, the need to demilitarize our police forces? Well, earlier this year, President Obama took a step in that direction, signing Executive Order 13688, and thereby slowing the flow of surplus military equipment through the Department of Defense’s Excess Property Program [the “1033 program”] to state and local law enforcement agencies, where it could be put to use against American citizens. And, as I understand it, we’re now going to feel the effect of that executive order here at home… Yes, it’s being reported that the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office is going to have to return their armored vehicle, seen here entertaining families in Ypsilanti last summer.


It it enough? Probably not. But it’s a start. And I’m happy to see it going.

Here, by way of background, is a clip from the post I’d mentioned earlier about our need to roll back the American police state. [The following was first posted here August 18, 2014.]


…(W)e can stop our local police forces from becoming quasi military units. And, here, with more on that last point, is a clip from Vanity Fair.

…As protesters around the country march in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, Missouri, politicians and the media are suddenly railing against the long-developing militarization of the American police force. But a revealing vote this past June shows just how uphill the battle is to stop the trend of turning police into soldiers. On June 19, progressive House Democrat Alan Grayson (FL) offered an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would block the “transfer” of “aircraft (including unmanned aerial vehicles), armored vehicles, grenade launchers, silencers, toxicological agents, launch vehicles, guided missiles, ballistic missiles” from the Department of Defense to state and local police forces.

The amendment attracted the support of only 62 members, while 355 voted against it (14 didn’t vote). Included among those voting against it was Rep. William Lacy Clay (D), who represents Ferguson. Clay was joined by every senior member of the Democratic Party leadership team, including Reps. Nancy Pelosi (CA), Steny Hoyer (MD), and Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (SC). Democrats did form the bulk of support for the amendment (with 43 votes in favor), with 19 Republicans supporting as well—led by libertarian-conservative Rep. Justin Amash (MI), who lamented that “military-grade equipment . . . shouldn’t be used on the street by state and local police” on his Facebook page…

Biden was the author of the 1994 crime bill, which vastly increased the numbers of police on the streets, eliminated Pell grant access for prisoners, expanded the death penalty, and increased Border Patrol presence. This criminalization and militarization of Americans’ public-safety concerns has continued under President Obama. As Radley Balko writes, the Obama administration has increased the budget for Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and Byrne grants, both of which finance local police departments in their efforts to wage heavy-handed drug and crime war operations.

All of this provides a windfall for both security and arms companies and police departments, who are often enormous spenders against reforms that would curtail the militarization of public safety. Hoyer is one of the two members who have received thousands of dollars from the National Fraternal Order of Police (F.O.P.) in this campaign cycle. As tensions continued to mount in Ferguson, F.O.P.’s executive director Jim Pasco defended the militarization of police officers. “All police are doing is taking advantage of the advances of technology in terms of surveillance, in terms of communication and in terms of protective equipment that are available to criminals on the street,” Pasco told The Hill on Thursday…

Fortunately, we may have another chance to do the right thing. Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) is presently drafting a bill that would limit the transfer of military goods to America’s police forces. Here’s a clip from the Associated Press.

…Johnson said city streets should be a place for businesses and families, “not tanks and M16s.” He said a Pentagon program that transfers surplus military equipment to state and local law enforcement has led to police agencies resembling paramilitary forces.

“Militarizing America’s main streets won’t make us any safer, just more fearful and more reticent,” Johnson said. He said his bill would limit the type of military equipment that can be transferred to law enforcement, and require states to certify they can account for all equipment received.

The bill targets a 24-year-old military surplus program that transfers equipment from blankets to bayonets and tanks to police and sheriff’s departments across the country. An Associated Press investigation last year of the Defense Department program found that a large share of the $4.2 billion in surplus military gear distributed since 1990 went to police and sheriff’s departments in rural areas with few officers and little crime…

Maybe I’m naive, but this seems to me like something that the Liberals and the Libertarians of America should be able to come together on. I know our politicians like the financial contributions that keep coming in from the military industrial complex, but I’d like to think that even they can look at the events in Ferguson and see that a line’s been crossed… No one, regardless of party affiliation, should want to see an America that looks like this.


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  1. Posted December 8, 2015 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t like seeing parents and kids climbing in and out of this thing when it showed up a last summer’s Touch A Truck event. Whether it was intentional or not, I got the feeling that it was there so that we’d being to accept it as normal. And I didn’t like that.

  2. Stupid Hick
    Posted December 9, 2015 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    I would actually be interested in checking it out too. But I am against indoctrinating children to accept militarization of our culture as normal. The “armed society = polite society” world view is seriously twisted. It corrodes our society, it doesn’t strengthen it.

  3. Demetrius
    Posted December 9, 2015 at 3:19 am | Permalink

    I generally support the police, who are asked by society to do a very difficult job – and therefore believe they deserve the tools and equipment needed to do the job they are asked to do (and to try to do it safely). We also still need SWAT teams, etc. for special circumstances. (barricaded gunmen, hostage situations, etc.)

    That said, in general our police need to be a *part* of the community, not an occupying force. The overwhelming emphasis needs to be on police getting out of their vehicles and talking to (and getting to know) neighbors and local business owners – not riding around in heavily-armed vehicles that position them in contrast to (or above) “everyday” citizens and/or crime.

    In our post-9/11 world, the fact that so so many taxpayer dollars are flowing into Homeland Security that there is a enough of a massive surplus of military-style equipment that it can be shared with local police departments says a lot about our country and its values these days.

  4. John Galt
    Posted December 9, 2015 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    I’m so sad that I didn’t get a chance to experience its majesty firsthand while it was here in our community. I would have loved to have seen it roll through a house, crushing a family of suspected evil doers.

  5. Anonymous Too
    Posted December 9, 2015 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    The Washington Post wrote the following on 5/18/15 when Obama signed the executive order:

    This announcement is significant. There are types of objections to how the 1033 Program affects police militarization in America. The first is a practical objection — this equipment was designed for use on the battlefield. There’s just no appropriate domestic application for a tracked tank or for guns that shoot .50-caliber ammunition.

    The second objection is more about mindset, symbolism and the kind of society in which we want to live. There are plenty of scenarios under which a police department would legitimately need a bulletproof truck. But there’s really no reason why that truck needs to be an MRAP, or painted camouflage or military green, or designed to look as imposing and intimidating as possible. Imagery is important. It’s an indication of how the police see themselves, how they see the community they serve and how the perceive their relationship with that community. And all of that in turn affects how the community views the police. It isn’t difficult to understand how a cop who is dressed in camouflage who rides around the neighborhood in an MRAP is likely to approach to his job with a different mindset than a cop in traditional police blues who conducts daily foot patrols in the same neighborhood.

    From what has been reported, this new initiative addresses these concerns as well and seems to indicate that the Obama administration understands and appreciates that the symbolic component of police militarization is just as important as the practical component. I’m uncomfortable with any military vehicles going to local police. Free societies tend to draw a clear line between cops and soldiers. Blurring that line indicates a failure to appreciate its importance. But this initiative is moving toward reestablishing that line, not moving it or further blurring it. Federal programs are pretty difficult to disband, so a blanket ban was probably never in the cards. Conditioning the acceptance of this gear on increased transparency, accountability and a move toward community policing seems like a good compromise. We’ll either get less use of this military-issued equipment, or we’ll get more and better information about how it’s used. Either outcome is progress.

  6. J.T.
    Posted December 9, 2015 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    now’s the time for riots

  7. JR Bruun
    Posted December 9, 2015 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    “Flattening Jaywalkers Week” got cancelled.

  8. John Coleman
    Posted December 9, 2015 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Canada has been waiting for a long time for this day. They will invade at dawn.

  9. Steve Pickard
    Posted December 9, 2015 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me…I went to a Meijer last Wednesday…coincidentially the same day as San Bernardino…and it was “Shop with a Cop” night. Either safest or scariest place to be that night (i felt safe, but the lot looked surreal…)

  10. Meta
    Posted December 9, 2015 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    From Michigan Radio:

    “Lawmakers don’t want military equipment kept from police”

    Six Republican members of Michigan’s Congressional delegation want President Barack Obama to rescind his order requiring state and local law enforcement to return some armored vehicles and grenade launchers to a federal military surplus program. In a letter sent yesterday to the president, the U.S. Reps. said, “Of particular assistance to state and local law enforcement agencies in Michigan is the tracked armored vehicle.” The letter was signed by Reps. Mike Bishop, Bill Huizenga, Candice Miller, John Moolenaar, Dave Trott and Fred Upton.

    Rep. Miller said local police need the best equipment in active shooter, hostage and terrorist situations. “His [Obama’s] executive order to repo all of this surplus Department of Defense equipment that is all throughout the entire country, I think, is not only misguided, I think it’s dangerous,” said Miller. “This is an issue to keep our first responders safe and our communities safe.”

    According to Michelle McCaskill, a spokesperson for the Defense Logistics Agency which oversees the military surplus program, the items being recalled represent a small fraction of military equipment that has been distributed to law enforcement.

    McCaskill said 126 tracked armored vehicles are being recalled nationwide, and other armored vehicles with wheels can be requested as replacements as they become available, although there currently is a waiting list.

    Earlier this year, Obama ended long-running transfers of some combat-style equipment to police in response to concerns about the militarization of local law enforcement, and in an effort to ease tensions between police and minority communities.

    Read more:

  11. Steve Pickard
    Posted December 9, 2015 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    I kinda came around to the cop perspective after SB and that barriacaded gunman over in Ypsi about a month ago. I do think they need some armored carriers and personnel protection gear, and am sorta annoyed (in general) that the bad behavior of all the asshole cop dept in Ferguson (which seems like a uniquely f#$ked up & polarized town in general…) messed it up for every other dept.

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  1. […] I’ve always been against the militarization of U.S. police forces, and in favor of more transparency, accountability and civilian oversight, I […]

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