Sometimes, change can be created from the most tragic events. I think — I hope — what we’re looking at is a dramatic change in the way that things are done in this country regarding police procedures.
Georgia Representative Hank Johnson (D) is attempting to steer things in that direction, anyway. He proposed legislation on Thursday that was aimed at demilitarizing domestic police forces, writing in a “Dear Colleague” letter to members of Congress that “Our main streets should be a place for business, families, and relaxation, not tanks and M16s. Unfortunately … our local police are quickly beginning to resemble paramilitary forces.”
His legislation, the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, would prevent the Pentagon-to-Podunk’s Police Department pipeline of certain military-grade equipment. This bill includes some automatic weapons, armored vehicles, armored drones, silencers, and flash-bang or stun grenades.
Johnson isn’t a Ted Cruz, either; he boasts achievements beyond misunderstanding Green Eggs and Ham and endorsements outside of coloring books. These endorsements include the Friends Committee on National Legislation, American Civil Liberties Union, and Defending Dissent Foundation.
Bet you didn’t think there was someone like that from Georgia, did you?
In his letter, he wrote that, “Before another small town’s police force gets a $700,000 gift from the Defense Department that it can’t maintain or manage, it behooves us to reign in the Pentagon’s 1033 program and revisit the merits of a militarized America. I hope we can work together on this important issue.”
His cause shows signs of bipartisan support; concerns regarding police militarization often attract the libertarian wing of the Republican party, who rightly see it as a dangerous encroachment of government authority (stopped clocks on military time, folks).
For example, in an op-ed penned for TIME magazine published Thursday, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) called the militarization of our police forces across the nation a “very serious problem,” and added that the federal government has “incentivized the militarization of local police precincts” and built them into “small armies:”
Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies—where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement.
Attorney General Eric Holder also raised the subject on Thursday, issuing a statement that read:
At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community, I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message. At my direction, Department officials have conveyed these concerns to local authorities.
Johnson’s office told TPM that he was going to formally introduce the legislation in September, when Congress reconvenes from their break. At which point, I give this much needed piece of legislation 1 week before the do-nothing Republican party kills it.