Militarization of Local Police Skyrockets Under Obama

August 12, 2016

Black Agenda Report's Glen Ford says President Obama may eliminate the 2015 ban on military grade weapon transfers to local police departments

Black Agenda Report's Glen Ford says President Obama may eliminate the 2015 ban on military grade weapon transfers to local police departments



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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network and I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

In late July of this year, shortly after the shooting deaths of 5 police officers in Dallas, President Obama and Vice President Biden met with police officer Jim Pascal, Executive Director of Fraternal Order of Police, and Bill Johnson, Executive Director of the National Association of Police Organizations. Now the White House is revisiting the 2015 ban on police forces getting riot gear, armored vehicles, and other military grade equipment from the US armed forces to police our cities. Then the Obama administration also announced that it would change the procedures for counting police shootings of suspects in order to keep more accurate tally of such shootings.

Joining us now to discuss these Obama administration shifts in policies is Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report. He’s the author of The Big Lie: An Analysis of the US Media Coverage of the Grenada Invasion. So good to have you with us Glen.

GLEN FORD: Well, thanks for the opportunity.

PERIES: So first of all, Glen, let’s remind everybody that the 2015 ban of these kinds of military grade equipment to police forces came as a public outcry over police in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri and of course using this kind of riot gear to police our citizens. So what do you make of these policy shifts that are now going on in the administration?

FORD: Well it shows that this Obama administration will use any excuse to restore what in fact was a huge surge in militarization of the local police by the federal government through the Pentagon, under President Obama. Under this president, the Pentagon’s transfers of weapons and equipment and training and all of those militarizing things increased to 24 times. That’s 2004, or 100% over previous administrations.

When Obama came in, they highest expenditure that came out of the expenditure for local police was $32 million. Within a few years, he was spending $787 million. That’s 3 quarters of a billion dollars on militarizing the police.

So I think it can be accurately said that the militarization of the local police entered into a new era, a new chapter of this president who then just backed off slightly, down to a little bit more than half a billion dollars in Pentagon transfers to local departments after Ferguson. And now with Dallas and Baton Rouge is considering, that means he’s going to, reinstating his surge. An Obama surge.

PERIES: Now when we’re talking about this kind of military equipment, we’re talking about armed trucks, grenade launchers, riot gears, of the kind that are normally used at war now being turned on its own citizens. What’s wrong with this picture?

FORD: Well it teaches cops that they are at war. If you dress somebody up like they’re at war, if you give them training as if they are at war, well then you can expect that they’re going to act like killers on the battlefield. And that is the way they act.

What’s not really understood about this current era of mass incarceration is that it is a creature of the federal government. It is true that for black people there has always been mass incarceration. But these were state affairs.

It was Mississippi’s mass incarceration policy or California’s or New York’s. But late in the 60’s, the federal government intervened. And this was under President Johnson’s last months and decided that it would be the funder and the director of this new federal involvement in policing.

This is where the mass incarceration period that we are now in comes from. It’s a federally funded affair. And that’s why the cops all across the country, act in the same way. Behave in the same way and now dress in the same camouflage. It’s because of the federal intervention.

PERIES: Now Glen one could justify some of this additional equipment, military grade stuff that the police is getting because they for the first time have to now defend us against terrorists activity in some of our cities. Is that not a justification for this kind of additional equipment?

FORD: There’s always a justification offered and sometimes it’s good to be an older person because you remember things. And I remember back in the 80s was this hysteria about the huge growth in black gangs and how these black gangs, especially in California, were outgunning, were better armed than police.

Then we saw these stories about Crips and Bloods numbering in the tens of thousands. 50 thousand Crips and Bloods in LA. Totally overwhelming in terms of their firepower, the police. And this justified more militarization of the police by the federal government and of course by the states. But when did you hear of an automatic weapons involved shootout between Crips and the police or Bloods and police in LA?

It never happened. Just like large scale attacks on settlers’ wagon trains never happened either. These are myths that are used in order to accomplish a governmental policy. And that police is to create a force that is really a counter insurgency force, designed to contain and terrorize black folks in order to prevent any kind of open rebellions.

This is how it started in 1968 with the passage of the Law Enforcement Assistance Act which first gave the federal government a direct role in policing. And it continues to be the same policy and President Obama is a champion of that policy. That’s why he is the king of militarization of local police.

PERIES: Now one other very concerning issue is data collection, in terms of the number of police shooting civilians in our country. And after 8 years of being in office, finally President Obama is introducing some policies in relation to how that data is collected and tallied.

I mean this is not a new concern on the part of the community police relations that this data isn’t available so we can see the number of shoot civilians that are going on. What do you make of this effort to collect data and why haven’t that been already done in this country?

FORD: Well, yeah, it’s been 2 years since passage of a bill that called for the federal government to ask local police departments, there are about 20 thousand of them and medical examiners, to fill out forms every three months that don’t just report the deaths in police custody that police publicly acknowledge. But also any deaths that the police or the medical examiners hear about in news reports or from any other source.

It’s important to note that two newspapers already do that. The Guardian and the Washington Post. And it was in 2013 that this whole process was kicked off by a handful of activists with the Malcolm X grassroots movement. And in 2013 they issued a report. It was titled Operation Ghetto Storm, in which they tabulated that a black person is killed police or by security guards or by vigilantes who think they’re police. A black person is killed every 28 hours.

But the federal government, the Obama administration, is just now getting around to sending out a notice to these police departments. They have until October to respond. To see how they feel about being asked to do this. There is a penalty, according to this law, for those who fail to comply. And that is the loss of 10% of the federal funding that might go to that local police department.

But all of this is about enforcement. And an administration that takes 2 years to even send out a notice and does not include in that notice a federal law enforcement as also being subject to comply with the law, that does not inspire confidence. And remember, the next president will probably be Hillary Clinton, whose husband oversaw the greatest surge in police and prisons in the nation’s history. And I don’t think we can expect much enforcement of these kinds of laws from her either.

PERIES: Alright. Glen I thank you so much for joining us today and hope you keep an eye on this issue and report back to us very soon. Thank you.

FORD: Thank you.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

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