US government to investigate paramilitary policing

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Yesterday, the US's Obama administration said it has ordered an investigation into the appropriateness of military hardware being sold to and deployed by police forces in the United States. This investigation comes after the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9.

A spokesman for the administration said Obama "has directed a review of federal programs and funding that enable state and local law enforcement to purchase military equipment". The review is to consider issues around training and federal oversight.

Official protrait of Barack Obama, 2009.
Image: Pete Souza.

Obama said on Monday: "There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don't want those lines blurred[...] That would be contrary to our traditions."

Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, announced earlier last week the US Department of Homeland Security's Financial and Contracting Oversight Subcommittee will have a hearing in September on demilitarization of police forces. McCaskill said of the events in Ferguson: "We need to demilitarize this situation — this kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution".

Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, wrote an op-ed for Time arguing militarization of the police needed to be ended: "There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace, but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response. The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action."

Paul continued: "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."

Paul also argued race played a part in the provision of justice in the United States: "Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention. Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences for non-violent mistakes in their youth."