Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ferguson Fallout: Do the Police Really Need 12,000 Bayonets?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ferguson Fallout: Do the Police Really Need 12,000 Bayonets?

Article excerpt

Texas police departments own 73 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles. The state's National Guard has six.

That startling fact was one of many to emerge Tuesday from a congressional hearing into the armed police response to demonstrators in Ferguson, Mo., protesting the Aug. 9 shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a police officer.

At issue was whether local police departments need the sort of heavy-duty equipment provided to them - for free - by the Pentagon. Senators also questioned whether it might be a good idea to also provide training along with the military-grade hardware.

The Pentagon program, known as 1033, came to national attention in the wake of the Ferguson protests, when camouflage-clad police turned up in heavy armored vehicles, aiming high-powered assault rifles at unarmed citizens.

The people who took to the streets to mourn and question the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, "did not deserve to be treated like enemy combatants," said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) of Missouri, who spearheaded the hearing before the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

Nor was the uber-armed reaction, which turned Ferguson into a "war zone," complete with camouflage, tear gas, and laser sites on assault rifles, she added, "compatible with the peaceful exercise of first amendment rights."

It was a hearing replete with bipartisan agreement.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma said that he, too, viewed the police response in Ferguson as treading "on dangerous ground in undermining the very principles that built this country."

In fact, it's hard to see the difference, he added, between the Pentagon's arming of police forces and standing militias.

Into this rare bipartisan accord stepped Alan Estevez, the Pentagon's principal deputy undersecretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics, who had the unfortunate task of attempting to put the senators' indignation in context in his testimony before the committee.

Mr. Estevez pointed out that, through its 1033 program, the Pentagon had provided the Ferguson Police Department with a total of two Humvees, one generator, and one cargo trailer. He stressed that the Department of Defense "does not push equipment on any police force. …

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