Trump plans to resume sending surplus battlefield-grade military hardware to police departments across the country, as well as providing grants to departments to buy new military equipment. The news has led to howls from civil rights groups across the country. Obama stopped such transfers after the Ferguson Police Department brutally used their military surplus weapons against protesters in 2014.
The transfers are part of the “1033 program.” The program started in 1990 to provide equipment for the War on Drugs. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, its focus changed to the War of Terror. The program continues to provide equipment that police might reasonably need, such as riot gear or small-caliber weapons. But Obama’s 2014 restrictions covered battlefield equipment such as armored vehicles, large-caliber weapons, and combat aircraft. Obama said at the time:
We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like they’re an occupying force, as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them.
Such perceptions don’t seem to bother Trump, the same man who pardoned Joe Arpaio for violating people’s civil rights. Trump favors police brutality, explicitly advocating it in a speech to officers in July. Now he will provide police with the equipment to turn them into a paramilitary force. The only question here is whether Trump will explicitly offer to pardon police who abuse their power or just leave it implied by his pardon of Arpaio for exactly such abuse.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has long supported using government power to support racism, led the campaign to reinstate the sales. He announced the reinstatement at a meeting Monday of the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police union. The FOP’s president, Chuck Canterbury, said he was pleased that Sessions was “the bearer of such good news.”
Good news for would-be police warlords, perhaps, but not for America.