The Trump administration is reversing an Obama-era policy that had restricted the kinds of surplus military gear the Defense Department could turn over to local police departments.
Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions announced Trump’s executive order in a speech to the Fraternal Order of Police in Nashville on Monday, saying it “will ensure that you can get the lifesaving gear that you need to do your job and send a strong message that we will not allow criminal activity, violence, and lawlessness to become the new normal.”Jim Pasco, the Nashville FOP’s executive director, said the change “is President Trump making good on a campaign promise.” Pasco said he and other police officials discussed the issue with the president and attorney general twice during meetings at the White House.
President Barack Obama issued an executive order in 2015 prohibiting the transfer of a host of equipment, including armored vehicles, grenade launchers, high-caliber weapons and camouflage uniforms following controversy over the “militarization” of the police response to unrest in Ferguson, Missouri the year prior.
“We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them,” Obama said at the time. “It can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message.”
The NAACP Legal Defense fund called today’s reversal by the Trump administration “exceptionally dangerous and irresponsible.”
Janai Nelson, the group’s associate director counsel, said the policy change “puts more firepower in the hands of police departments that remain largely untrained on matters of racial bias and endangers the public. Inviting the use of military weaponry against our domestic population is nothing short of recasting the public as an enemy.”