Trump Reverses Obama’s Ban on Transfer of Some Military Equipment to Police
Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report explains that the reversal is less significant than it appears because before his ban Obama increased the transfer of military weapons to police by a factor of 24
EDDIE CONWAY: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Eddie Conway coming to you from Baltimore. Recently Donald Trump had just overturned another one of the bans that President Obama had put in place. Back in 2015, Obama decided that he would not allow the transfer of heavy military weapons to local police departments because it gave the impression of occupying the community.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force, as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them. And alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message. We’re going to prohibit some equipment made for the battlefield that is not appropriate for local police departments.
EDDIE CONWAY: Today, Jeff Sessions is repealing that ban. Joining me today to explain what this means to us and to everybody is Glen Ford, the Executive Editor of Black Agenda Report. Glen, welcome.
GLEN FORD: Thank you for having me.
EDDIE CONWAY: Glen, can you explain to us what this means? What did Obama do and what’s being undone now?
GLEN FORD: Well this Pentagon program, it’s called the 10-33 program. It’s been in effect since 1997, and since that time, it has transferred over $5 billion in weapons and military gear and uniforms and such to local police departments, including college police departments. In fact, almost any federal agency or any state agency or any governmental entity is eligible to get weapons from the Pentagon.
Attorney General Sessions, when he was announcing that the Trump administration was going to withdraw those restrictions, the restrictions made by Obama in 2015, he didn’t cite any increased need for these weapons, for more militarized police. He simply said that they were sending a message about law and order. But if that is the case, the Trump administration is going to have to go a very long way if it’s going to catch up with the Obama administration and its eight years of militarizing the police.
Between the years 2009 and 2014 … Remember, 2014 was the year that blacks rebelled against the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The year that the Black Lives Matter movement was born. During that short space of time, Barack Obama increased the transfers of Pentagon weapons to the local policy 24-fold, 24 times as much.
He did this with the active support of the Congressional Black Caucus. When a Congressman named Alan Grayson tried to kill the 10-33 program back in June of 2014, 32 of the 40 voting members of the Congressional Black Caucus either voted against killing the program or they abstained from a vote, which was the same thing.
U.S. police were allowed to continue to become more armed and more armored than any other police force in the world. We see that what began, and you remember this, what began with one SWAT team back in Los Angeles in 1968 has now grown to a standing army of cops, number three-quarters of a million in 15,000 departments and virtually all of them are eligible for weapons from the US military.
In fact, the U.S. military does not really check very hard to see who it’s giving these weapons to. Just this last summer, the federal government’s General Accounting Office staged a sting operation against the 10-33 program. They set up a phony federal agency and then applied for weapons from the 10-33 Pentagon program and it only took one week and they got $1.2 million in guns and night vision goggles from the 10-33 program. In fact one of the investigators said it was just like ordering stuff from Ebay.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. What type weapons are we talking about here?
GLEN FORD: Well, we’re certainly talking about militarized vehicles, MRAPS. These are armored vehicles. They’ve been distributing them by the hundreds. Police departments claim that these are not just used for riot control and other purposes, but that they need them for natural disasters. They also say the same thing about night vision goggles, that it’s not just for sniping at folks, but also for natural disasters.
President Obama, when he, in 2015, after the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, when he put restrictions in place, some of the things that he restricted weren’t being distributed anyway by the Pentagon. For example, 50 caliber machine guns were not on the list. But these MRAPS, these armored vehicles, were. Thousands and thousands of high powered automatic military weapons have been and continue to be distributed by the Pentagon.
Also they distribute office supplies. They distribute camouflage uniforms, which certainly are of no use in an urban environment, but do contribute to the battle ready image of policemen, which I suppose is the purpose, to show that they’re ready to kill you.
EDDIE CONWAY: Well, Glen, you said earlier that something like over $5 billion have been distributed. How much of this was distributed under Obama as opposed to all the rest of the presidents from 1990 when the program started?
GLEN FORD: Obama distributed more than all of the presidents before him. Now there’s a Congressman named Hank Johnson out of Atlanta. He filled the seat that used to be Cynthia McKinney’s. He’s introduced legislation that would effectively shut down the 10-33 program. He says that the figure is $5.1 billion dollars. It’s very difficult … He tried to get a figure, because the U.S. government doesn’t make these folks, these police departments and college campus police departments pay for the stuff and it claims that most of it is surplus. So what is the value of surplus equipment?
However, studies have shown that at least one-third of the stuff that the Pentagon has handed out to these police departments is either brand new, never opened in the box, so to speak, or otherwise in mint condition. Getting a hard handle on the dollar value is kind of hard because of the trick games that the Pentagon plays.
EDDIE CONWAY: What will this mean on the ground, in black communities, poor communities, communities of color? What does this mean on the ground going forward now for us?
GLEN FORD: Well you know, the Obama restrictions only went into effect in 2015. They probably didn’t stop things that were already in the pipeline. It only affected a few categories of weapons, and as I said, some of the weapons that he restricted actually were not being distributed.
I think the Trump administration’s being rather honest in its diabolical kind of way by not citing any kind of need. It simply says that they are sending a message that they’re on the side of law and order. That may be the most dangerous contribution of all. The cops already have all the weapons they need. What they’re getting is an okay to use them, an encouraging signal from the Trump administration. Go to it. We got your back.
EDDIE CONWAY: According to one of the reports I read that you had one for the Black Agenda Report, I see that the highest amount of money of military equipment transferred was something $34 million under other presidents and then under Obama it’s been $787 million in one year. That’s a hell of an increase, but …
GLEN FORD: What that shows is that Obama was waging a much deeper and more destructive war against the black community than George Bush was. Of course, George Bush had started the Iraq War before him. But I think there’s a deeper meaning here.
When a white Republican president starts spreading weapons to police departments that are then used against the ghetto, he’s easily called a racist. Then it certainly would be true. But when you get a black president, he can increase those deliveries of weapons to racist police departments 30 fold, as Obama did, and nobody seems to even notice, and the Congressional Black Caucus will give you its seal of approval.
EDDIE CONWAY: Yeah. This bothers me because there’s not outcry of the civil rights organizations or any other kind of oversight organization. Nobody’s actually saying anything about this. This, and even today, I don’t hear any pushback. Is there anything happening in the community in relationship to this?
GLEN FORD: Well you know, if they don’t watch Black Agenda Report or The Real News, they wouldn’t even know about Obama’s role in further militarizing the police. That is the big problem. I’m sure that you, in preparation for this broadcast, went through the corporate media’s reports on this and I’m sure that you did not see, just as I did not see, any reference to the fact that President Obama had so drastically increased this 10-33 program. All we saw was that Obama had put certain restrictions on the program in 2015. That gives the impression that Obama was the great reformer, rather than the great arms supplier to the police.
EDDIE CONWAY: Yeah. I noticed that this whole military weapons transfer thing happened under the National Defense Authorization Act, and what I notice is that in 2016, Obama signed a National Defense Authorization Act that will allow the military to lock up and hold indefinitely anybody in the world, including American citizens. Coupled with the growth of this military might on the ground, in terms of the police department being armed like a military machine and this National Defense Authorization Act to lock up everybody with no redress, this is, it’s scary. I mean what does this mean for us?
GLEN FORD: Well, President Obama, one of his first acts, I believe it was in 2010. It might have been 2009, through the NDAA, the National Defense Authorization Act, authorized, made legal detention without trial. He was working on this for some time this infrastructure of fascism kind of legislation. In terms of what’s scary, we’ve been talking about 10-33 program, which as I said was enacted in ’97 but since 2001 and 2002, we’ve had the Homeland Security Department, which was an octopus that swallowed up lots of other agencies and departments.
It probably distributes more weapons even than 10-33, but it does so through a variety of programs and under the label of anti-terror. It’s very difficult, since it comes from so many different places, these various weapons and weapons related programs from Homeland Security, it’s very difficult to keep, to find a dollar amount to put on it, but it’s at least as big as the 10-33 program. There may be others that we’ve neglected as well.
EDDIE CONWAY: Yes. There’s certainly something around drugs, the war on drugs is still in place from the federal government where they are actually taking people’s money and using that money to finance other programs in the police and the military and the federal government. Yeah.
GLEN FORD: Yes. And under Trump, that kind of taking of folks stuff, even though, by the police, even when you’re not charged with or convicted of a crime, the Trump administration is very gung ho about that, but then so was Obama.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. So we’ll have to revisit this again later on and follow and see where this actually leads us to. Thank you for joining me.
GLEN FORD: Thank you, and I’m sure it’s leading us to a very dark place.
EDDIE CONWAY: I’m sure it is. Thank you for joining The Real News.