Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, is trying to rally support on Capitol Hill to curtail the distribution of military surplus to local cops, amid images from Ferguson, Mo., of armored divisions of police quelling protests.
Johnson plans to introduce the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act in September, and expects the shooting death of a black Ferguson teenager in an altercation with police and the police response will help gin up support -- even though Johnson has been working on the issue for months. Johnson told colleagues in a letter that the bill will do two things:
- It will limit the type of equipment that can be transferred;
- It will require that states certify that they can account for all equipment.
Johnson notes that local departments are getting free Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles (MRAPs) from the Pentagon with what he says is not enough accountability:
"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."
This could become a bipartisan cause. Presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., wrote an op-ed for Time along the same lines:
"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.
"The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm. It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime. It is quite another for them to subsidize it.
"Americans must never sacrifice their liberty for an illusive and dangerous, or false, security. This has been a cause I have championed for years, and one that is at a near-crisis point in our country."