Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are pushing back against a Pentagon program that provides military equipment to local law enforcement departments, in the wake of nationwide protests after the death of George Floyd, according to a report.
The bipartisan group of lawmakers are seeking a review of a Defense Department initiative that transfers hardware like bayonets and grenade launchers to police departments, the New York Times reported on Monday.
The effort comes as images of the Floyd protests show law enforcement officials responding with riot gear and military vehicles.
Former President Barack Obama placed limits on the Pentagon program but President Trump rolled those back in 2017.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said he would include an amendment to shut down the Pentagon program in a must-pass defense policy bill.
“It is clear that many police departments are being outfitted as if they are going to war, and it is not working in terms of maintaining the peace,” Schatz told the Times. “This is not the only thing we need to do, but as our country sees these images on television that remind us of some countries far, far away, it’s time to recalibrate this program. Just because the Department of Defense has excess weaponry doesn’t mean it will be put to good use.”
The chief strategist for Sen. Rand Paul said the Kentucky Republican would support the effort.
“We’ve being doing this one for years. Happy to help,” Doug Stafford responded to Schatz, adding that Paul has long backed the demilitarization of local police departments.
It’s unknown how the measure would fare in the Republican-controlled Senate, but Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a former Marine, said he would introduce similar legislation in the House.
“As a combat veteran and proud Marine, very little of my equipment or training was relevant to policing Phoenix or other American communities,” Gallego said. “Our neighborhoods aren’t war zones.”The program began in the 1990s to bolster police departments with military equipment during the war on drugs and was expanded after 9/11.”
But it came under criticism when police responded to protests after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 in armored vehicles and carrying military gear.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said he would introduce a number of reforms – including banning the use of chokeholds and creating a national police misconduct registry.
“Cities are literally on fire with the pain and anguish wrought by the violence visited upon black and brown bodies,” Booker said. “There’s no one singular policy change that will fix this issue tomorrow. We need an entire set of holistic reforms to improve police training and practices, and ensure greater accountability and transparency.”
Addressing the continuing protests and unrest following Floyd’s death last week in Minneapolis, Trump told governors to take control of the situation or he would mobilize the military to do so.
“Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming presence until the violence is quelled,” Trump said Monday in the Rose Garden. “If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”
Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
He and the three other officers involved in detaining Floyd have been fired.
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