If You Thought Obama Was Giving Less Military Gear to Local Police Departments, You Were Wrong :: In These Times

If You Thought Obama Was Giving Less Military Gear to Local Police Departments, You Were Wrong

Despite President Obama’s much-touted 2015 executive order, an In These Timesinvestigation reveals evidence that police departments are still receiving as much military hardware from the Pentagon as ever.


WHEN PROTESTORS TOOK TO THE STREETS OF FERGUSON, MO., IN 2014 in response to the police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, they also turned the nation’s attention to a related issue: the growing militarization of local law enforcement. Images of suburban police threatening demonstrators with armored vehicles and assault rifles prompted changes to the controversial 1033 program, through which the Department of Defense (DOD) transfers surplus military equipment to police departments nationwide.

President Obama’s May 2015 announcement that he would freeze giveaways of certain gear drew outrage from law enforcement groups such as the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO), which later charged that the banned equipment was “essential in protecting communities against violent criminals and terrorists.” After shooters targeted and killed uniformed police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge in July, NAPO and other groups doubled down on criticisms that the administration was putting officers’ lives at risk. On July 21, Reuters reported that, following a meeting with police groups, Obama had agreed to revisit the ban.

But an In These Times investigation provides evidence that, in practice, the president’s much-ballyhooed reforms to the 1033 program have done little to stem the flow of battlefield gear to cops.

In fact, the total value of equipment distributed through the program actually increased in the year following the ban, according to figures provided to In These Times by Michelle McCaskill, media relations chief for the DOD’s Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), which oversees the shipments.

So far in fiscal year 2016, (Oct. 1, 2015 – September 13), the DLA has transferred $494 million worth of gear to local police departments, In These Times learned from McCaskill.

That far exceeds the $418 million of equipment sent to police in FY 2015 (Oct. 1, 2014 – Sept. 30, 2015). According to an analysis published in May by the transparency organization Open the Books, 2015 was already a peak year for such shipments within the past decade, exceeded only by 2014’s $787 million. Since 2006, more than $2.2 billion of hardware has found its way into the hands of police, according to the report.

Many police accountability advocates warned from the outset that last year’s reforms were too limited in scope. Of seven items on the list of prohibited equipment, only one had actually been given to police departments in recent years, noted a May 2015 article in the Guardian. While the Obama administration placed additional requirements on the transfer of certain aircraft, armored vehicles and riot gear considered especially intimidating to civilians, hundreds of pieces of such equipment are still finding their way into the hands of local police. So far this year, for example, cops have acquired more than 80 mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles (MRAPs)—15-ton vehicles that were originally designed to withstand roadside bombs in war zones.

A SECOND LIFE FOR LETHAL WEAPONRY

The 1033 program, which refers to a section of the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act that created it, is a popular way for cash-strapped local law enforcement agencies to get gear on the cheap. Police departments typically are responsible only for the costs of shipping and maintaining the equipment.

Advocates also say the 1033 program allows underutilized Pentagon inventory to find a second life. “Since the American taxpayers have paid for this equipment already, does it not make more sense to share this equipment with local law enforcement agencies, as opposed to asking for the taxpayers to buy the same equipment twice?” asks Jim Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, in an email to In These Times.

ACLU Minnesota legal director Teresa Nelson says that she is sensitive to the needs of law enforcement. “Nobody wants the police to be unsafe,” she says. “At the same time … when you have police in armored vehicles that look like tanks, you really change the dynamic between the police and the communities they serve.”

In January 2015, Obama responded to growing criticism of the program in the wake of Ferguson by issuing Executive Order 13688, which created a federal interagency group to investigate police militarization and come up with recommendations. As a result of this investigation, police were prohibited from receiving certain equipment, including bayonets, tracked armored vehicles, firearms and ammunition of .50‐caliber or higher, grenade launchers, camouflage uniforms and weaponized aircraft.

Critics said the reforms were superficial. Last year, an NPR analysis of 10 years of DLA data showed that of all the aircraft given to local police through the 1033 program, none were weaponized. The investigation further revealed that nearly 87 percent of the hundreds of armored vehicles being used at the time by local police ran on wheels, not tracks. Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Social Justice Studies and one of the leading researchers of police militarization, told the Guardian that the new rules were nothing more than a “publicity stunt.”

The ongoing transfer of armored vehicles, such as MRAPs, epitomizes these criticisms. Since the vehicles run on wheels, they aren’t on the new list of banned transfers. Nevertheless, their heft and design for use in warfare illustrates what critics see as the increasingly blurry line between police and military.

According to the DLA, police departments have received 708 MRAPs through the 1033 program since 2011, when the drawdown of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan first created a large reserve of unused equipment. At press time, 84 police departments had received the armored vehicles this year. More than 100 others have been approved and are awaiting delivery, according to DLA records obtained by In These Times through a Freedom of Information Act request.

As part of the Obama administration’s reforms, law enforcement agencies receiving “controlled” items, such as MRAPs, must demonstrate that they plan to train officers on proper use. But training materials used by various California police departments, obtained by the website MuckRock in June, show that instructional time for MRAPs ranges from 20 hours to as little as 15 minutes.

COMING TO A TOWN NEAR YOU?

Previously, only large urban police departments would have had the resources to justify acquiring the armored vehicles, which can cost upwards of $1 million. In 2014, Bill Johnson, executive director of NAPO, told USA Today that the 1033 program allows smaller police forces to play catch-up: “It’s their turn to get some of this equipment.”

That may explain why the 1033 program is particularly popular in states with significant rural populations such as Minnesota, where 74 of 87 county sheriffs have received surplus military equipment since 2005—mostly assault rifles and armored vehicles.

Jason Dingman, sheriff of sparsely populated Stevens County, Minn., told In These Times that an MRAP arrived this summer with only 56 miles on it. Virtually brand-new, the armored vehicle will just need a paint job and a fresh battery before being ready for use by West Central SWAT—a multi-agency task force that carries out tactical operations along the South Dakota border, but is called to the scene just six to eight times per year. “If we’re just executing a search warrant then we won’t bring [the MRAP] out,” Dingman says.
“But if the bad guy starts shooting at us then it’s a different situation and we can call out the MRAP to give our officers more protection.”

The DLA’s data show that police agencies receiving MRAPs in 2016 included those serving such tiny municipalities as Fallon, Nev. (pop. 8,458), and Westwego, La. (pop. 8,542). Even the police force in rural Pigeon Forge, Tenn. (pop. 6,171), found the need for an MRAP—perhaps to more effectively repel potential terrorist attacks on Dollywood, the town’s Dolly Parton-themed amusement park.

While police contend that equipment such as MRAPs are used defensively, renewed concerns arise whenever protests are met with a show of force. Following the police killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge in July, a local reporter videotaped an armored vehicle pushing up against a crowd of protestors.

John Lindsay-Poland, who has researched the topic for the anti-militarism group American Friends Service Committee, thinks that the 1033 program fosters a “warrior mentality” that can further corrode police-community relations. “If we do not want our police to be at war in our communities,” he tellsIn These Times, “then we shouldn’t equip them with war-fighting equipment.”

Investigative stories like this are only possibly because of the support of readers like you. If you want to see more hard-hitting journalism, make a tax-deductible donation to support In These Times.


From the November 2016 Issue

SETH KERSHNER is a writer and researcher whose work has appeared in outlets such as Rethinking Schools, Sojourners, and Boulder Weekly. He is the co-author (with Scott Harding) of Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

Source: If You Thought Obama Was Giving Less Military Gear to Local Police Departments, You Were Wrong

So Many Black People Locked Up it has Warped our Sense of Reality | Emerge News Online

So Many Black People Locked Up it has Warped our Sense of RealityApril 23, 2016 0 45Share on Facebook Tweet on Twitter Prisoners from Sacramento County await processing after arriving at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI) in Tracy, Calif. (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)For as long as the government has kept track, the economic statistics have shown a troubling racial gap. Black people are twice as likely as white people to be out of work and looking for a job. This fact was as true in 1954 as it is today.The most recent report puts the white unemployment rate at around 4.5 percent. The black unemployment rate? About 8.8 percent.But the economic picture for black Americans is far worse than those statistics indicate. The unemployment rate only measures people who are both living at home and actively looking for a job.The hitch: A lot of black men aren’t living at home and can’t look for jobs — because they’re behind bars. READ MORE

Source: So Many Black People Locked Up it has Warped our Sense of Reality | Emerge News Online

Angela Davis Talks Black Liberation, History and the Contemporary Vision – News & Views – EBONY

Angela Davis Talks Black Liberation, History and the Contemporary Vision[INTERVIEW] The iconic freedom struggle leader speaks with EBONY.com about Black human rights activism stretching back decades and her recently released book observing global movementsBY SHERYL HUGGINS SALOMON, FEBRUARY 17, 2016COMMENTSAngela Davis speaking at Myer Horowitz Theatre of the University of Alberta. Nick Wiebe/Wikimedia CommonsFifty years after the founding of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, the agenda and style of the legendary Black revolutionary organization remains relevant in today’s public discourse. An end to “police brutality and the murder of Black people,” central to the Black Lives Matter movement, was laid out in the Black Panthers’ 10-Point Platform five decades ago. Both acclaim and condemnation erupted when their iconic black berets made an appearance recently in Beyoncé’s half-time show performance during the Super Bowl.It’s telling that America is still grappling with many of the same racial inequities and injustices that it did 50 years ago – and that Black pride remains a controversial topic. Not so to renowned scholar, activist and feminist icon and close associate of the Black Panthers Angela Y. Davis.“If one looks at the 10-point program of the Black Panther Party, one sees that the very same issues that were raised in the aftermath of slavery are at the center of a program that was formulated in 1966,” said Davis, now a professor emeritus at University of California, Santa Cruz. “In 2008 when Barack Obama was elected, those issues had not been sufficiently addressed, certainly not yet solved, so therefore the election of one person to political office was not going to automatically reverse a history of a racist inspired economic oppression, which isn’t to say that it wasn’t important that we elected Barack Obama, but those struggles continue.”While in Spain last week advocating for the release of imprisoned Basque separatist politician Arnaldo Otegi, Davis took a few moments with EBONY.com to discuss contemporary issues like Black Lives Matter, the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and details from her latest book, Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement (Haymarket Books, 2016), edited by human rights activist Frank Barat.“I’ve been involved in the Palestine Solidarity movement for a very long time,” explained Davis. “When the Ferguson uprising happened a year and a half ago activists on the ground in occupied Palestine were the first to tweet support and advice to protesters in Ferguson. Out of that has come a very interesting, a very rich development of connections across the ocean. A delegation from Palestine visited Ferguson. Black Lives Matter and Ferguson activists, [as well as members of] Dream Defenders, Black Youth Project 100 made a trip to Palestine over about a year ago to express their solidarity.”  Related Articles CONNECTING PALESTINE AND POLICE VIOLENCE SIDRA SMITH ON ANGELA DAVIS DOC DIRECTOR TALKS ANGELA DAVIS DOCUMENTARYMore highlights of what Davis said are in the Q&A below.EBONY.COM: What’s the message of your new book?Angela Davis: I am particularly interested in [having] activists associated with the Black freedom movement to realize that our struggles never would have achieved this universality that they have achieved without solidarity that has come from Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and Australia. Our struggles are global, therefore, it is important for us to incorporate this global vision into our on the ground battles against police crimes and the prison industrial complex. Since I was very young I have been involved in organizations— the Communist Party, the Black Panther Party— that have had this global perspective.EBONY.COM: As you note in your book, events in Ferguson after the police shooting of Michael Brown exposed the militarization of police forces. Where is this push toward militarization headed and how can it be stopped?Davis: If one looks at the history of policing, especially over the last 15 years in the aftermath of 9/11, one can see the emphasis on the shifting of resources from the military to the police. This actually has a much longer history if one looks at the way in which the Vietnam War resulted in an impact on local police. The S.W.A.T. squads emerged as a result of using techniques and technology that were used by the Green Berets in the Vietnam War. The Los Angeles Police Department was the first to use such tactics against the Black Panther Party. We have also seen the emergence of privatized policing corporations. In the book, I refer to G4S (Group 4 Security), which is a private security corporation that has spread policing and prisons all over the world. It’s important not only to look at the ways in which these moments of inflicting terror have been taken up by police departments, but it’s also essential to look at the economic dimension by such processes. G4S, of course, is the thir

Source: Angela Davis Talks Black Liberation, History and the Contemporary Vision – News & Views – EBONY

This Week on OUR COMMON GROUND φ “40 Years, $1 Trillion, 45 Million Arrests Later: “The Truth About the War Against Us” φ LIVE

OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham

“The Truth About the War Against Us”
09-12-15 War on Drugs4
40 Years, $1 Trillion, 45 Million Arrests – the war still rages against our community. IT WAS NEVER ABOUT DRUGS

 Saturday, September 12, 2015

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This week on OUR COMMON GROUND, we review and examine the truth about the policies and intent of the “War on Drugs”. We need to talk about the money making behind the politics; how the drug war can be considered slow Nazi policy on the poor and the racial profiling used. We look at these destructive and failed policy and manipulation in its historical context and destructive outcomes. We will present audio clips for our discussion which will assist us in understanding just how much the “War on Drugs” was really never about drugs.

For sheer government absurdity, the War on Drugs is hard to beat. After three decades of increasingly punitive policies, illicit drugs are more easily available, drug potencies are greater, drug killings are more common, and drug barons are richer than ever. The War on Drugs costs Washington more than the Commerce, Interior, and State departments combined – and it’s the one budget item whose growth is never questioned. A strangled court system, exploding prisons, and wasted lives push the cost beyond measure. What began as a flourish of campaign rhetoric in 1968 has grown into a monster. And while nobody claims that the War on Drugs is a success, nobody suggests an alternative. Because to do so, as Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders learned, is political suicide.

As a community we need to understand how Drug War fever has been escalated; who has benefited along the way; and how the mounting price in dollars, lives, and liberties has been willfully ignored. Where are the policy maker offices where each new stage was planned and executed? What happened in the streets where policies have produced bloody warfare. This is a tale of the nation run amok – in a way the American people are not yet ready to confront. Are you?

You are invited to bring your thoughts about the pressing issues facing our community. Come listen and learn. SHARE please.

OUR COMMON GROUND where friends come to confer with allies.

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Michelle Alexander: I can no longer just stay in my lane

Michelle Alexander: I can no longer just stay in my lane

September 3, 2013

by Michelle Alexander

For the past several years, I have spent virtually all my working hours writing about or speaking about the immorality, cruelty, racism and insanity of our nation’s latest caste system: mass incarceration. On this Facebook page I have written and posted about little else. But as I pause today to reflect on the meaning and significance of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I realize that my focus has been too narrow.

Michelle Alexander graphic, webFive years after the March, Dr. King was speaking out against the Vietnam War, condemning America’s militarism and imperialism – famously stating that our nation was the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” He saw the connections between the wars we wage abroad and the utter indifference we have for poor people and people of color at home. He saw the necessity of openly critiquing an economic system that will fund war and will reward greed, hand over fist, but will not pay workers a living wage. Five years after the March on Washington, Dr. King was ignoring all those who told him to just stay in his lane, just stick to talking about civil rights.

Yet here I am decades later, staying in my lane. I have not been speaking publicly about the relationship between drones abroad and the War on Drugs at home. I have not been talking about the connections between the corrupt capitalism that bails out Wall Street bankers, moves jobs overseas and forecloses on homes with zeal, all while private prisons yield high returns and expand operations into a new market: caging immigrants. I have not been connecting the dots between the NSA spying on millions of Americans, the labeling of mosques as “terrorist organizations” and the spy programs of the 1960s and ‘70s – specifically the FBI and COINTELPRO programs that placed civil rights advocates under constant surveillance, infiltrated civil rights organizations and assassinated racial justice leaders.

I have been staying in my lane. But no more. In my view, the most important lesson we can learn from Dr. King is not what he said at the March on Washington, but what he said and did after. In the years that followed, he did not play politics to see what crumbs a fundamentally corrupt system might toss to the beggars of justice. Instead he connected the dots and committed himself to building a movement that would shake the foundations of our economic and social order, so that the dream he preached in 1963 might one day be a reality for all. He said that nothing less than “a radical restructuring of society” could possibly ensure justice and dignity for all. He was right.

I am still committed to building a movement to end mass incarceration, but I will not do it with blinders on. If all we do is end mass incarceration, this movement will not have gone nearly far enough. A new system of racial and social control will be born again, all because we did not do what King demanded we do: connect the dots between poverty, racism, militarism and materialism. I’m getting out of my lane. I hope you’re already out of yours.

This statement was posted by Michelle Alexander to her Facebook page on Aug. 28, 2013.

The Business of Mass Incarceration Chris Hedges

The Business of Mass Incarceration

Posted on Jul 28, 2013
Illustration by Mr. Fish

By Chris Hedges

Debbie Bourne, 45, was at her apartment in the Liberty Village housing projects in Plainfield, N.J., on the afternoon of April 30 when police banged on the door and pushed their way inside. The officers ordered her, her daughter, 14, and her son, 22, who suffers from autism, to sit down and not move and then began ransacking the home. Bourne’s husband, from whom she was estranged and who was in the process of moving out, was the target of the police, who suspected him of dealing cocaine. As it turned out, the raid would cast a deep shadow over the lives of three innocents—Bourne and her children.

* * * The murder of a teenage boy by an armed vigilante, George Zimmerman, is only one crime set within a legal and penal system that has criminalized poverty. Poor people, especially those of color, are worth nothing to corporations and private contractors if they are on the street. In jails and prisons, however, they each can generate corporate revenues of $30,000 to $40,000 a year. This use of the bodies of the poor to make money for corporations fuels the system of neoslavery that defines our prison system.

Chris Hedges will be among those fasting Wednesday in solidarity with the California prison hunger strike. For information about how to become involved in this week’s protest,click here.

Prisoners often work inside jails and prisons for nothing or at most earn a dollar an hour. The court system has been gutted to deny the poor adequate legal representation. Draconian drug laws send nonviolent offenders to jail for staggering periods of time. Our prisons routinely use solitary confinement, forms of humiliation and physical abuse to keep prisoners broken and compliant, methods that international human rights organizations have long defined as torture. Individuals and corporations that profit from prisons in the United States perpetuate a form of neoslavery. The ongoing hunger strike by inmates in the California prison system is a slave revolt, one that we must encourage and support. The fate of the poor under our corporate state will, if we remain indifferent and passive, become our own fate. This is why on Wednesday I will join prison rights activists, including Cornel West and Michael Moore, in a one-day fast in solidarity with the hunger strike in the California prison system.

In poor communities where there are few jobs, little or no vocational training, a dearth of educational opportunities and a lack of support structures there are, by design, high rates of recidivism—the engine of the prison-industrial complex. There are tens of millions of poor people for whom this country is nothing more than a vast, extended penal colony. Gun possession is largely criminalized for poor people of color while vigilante thugs, nearly always white, swagger through communities with loaded weapons. There will never be serious gun control in the United States. Most white people know what their race has done to black people for centuries. They know that those trapped today in urban ghettos, what Malcolm X called our internal colonies, endure neglect, poverty, violence and deprivation. Most whites are terrified that African-Americans will one day attempt to defend themselves or seek vengeance. Scratch the surface of survivalist groups and you uncover frightened white supremacists.

The failure on the part of the white liberal class to decry the exploding mass incarceration of the poor, and especially of African-Americans, means that as our empire deteriorates more and more whites will end up in prison alongside those we have condemned because of our indifference. And the mounting abuse of the poor is fueling an inchoate rage that will eventually lead to civil unrest.

“Again I say that each and every Negro, during the last 300 years, possesses from that heritage a greater burden of hate for America than they themselves know,”Richard Wright wrote. “Perhaps it is well that Negroes try to be as unintellectual as possible, for if they ever started really thinking about what happened to them they’d go wild. And perhaps that is the secret of whites who want to believe that Negroes have no memory; for if they thought that Negroes remembered they would start out to shoot them all in sheer self-defense.”

The United States has spent $300 billion since 1980 to expand its prison system. We imprison 2.2 million people, 25 percent of the world’s prison population. For every 100,000 adults in this country there are 742 behind bars. Five million are on parole. Only 30 to 40 percent are white.

The intrusion of corporations and private contractors into the prison system is a legacy of the Clinton administration. President Bill Clinton’s omnibus crime bill provided $30 billion to expand the prison system, including $10 billion to build prisons. The bill expanded from two to 58 the number of federal crimes for which the death penalty can be administered. It eliminated a ban on the execution of the mentally impaired. The bill gave us the “three-strikes” laws that mandate life sentences for anyone convicted of three “violent” felonies. It set up the tracking of sex offenders. It allowed the courts to try children as young as 13 as adults. It created special courts to deport noncitizens alleged to be “engaged in terrorist activity” and authorized the use of secret evidence. The prison population under Clinton swelled from 1.4 million to 2 million.

Incarceration has become a very lucrative business for an array of private contractors, most of whom send lobbyists to Washington to make sure the laws and legislation continue to funnel a steady supply of poor people into the prison complex. These private contractors, taking public money, build the prisons, provide food service, hire guards and run and administer detention facilities. It is imperative to their profits that there be a steady supply of new bodies.

* * *Bourne has worked for 13 years as a locker room assistant in the Plainfield school system. She works five hours a day. She does not have medical benefits. She struggles to take care of a daughter in fragile health and a disabled son.

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The World As It Is: 


Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress

A collection of Truthdig Columns
by Chris Hedges

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Revisiting the ‘Crack Babies’ Epidemic That Was Not – NYTimes.com

The worrisome extrapolations made by researchers — including the one who first published disturbing findings about prenatal cocaine use — were only part of the problem. Major newspapers and magazines, including Rolling Stone, Newsweek, The Washington Post and The New York Times, ran articles and columns that went beyond the research. Network TV stars of that era, including Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather, also bear responsibility for broadcasting uncritical reports.

A much more serious problem, it turns out, is infants who are born with fetal alcohol syndrome.

via Revisiting the ‘Crack Babies’ Epidemic That Was Not – NYTimes.com.

http://nyti.ms/116qYmh

 

he report is the third in a weekly series that will re-examine the leading stories of decades past. Videos are typically 10 to 12 minutes long and are part of a collaboration between The Times and Retro Report, a documentary news organization formed last year.

The online project was conceived of by Christopher Buck, a former television editor whose father was a founder of the Subway restaurant chain. Started with a grant from Mr. Buck, Retro Report, which has a staff of 12 journalists and 6 contributors, is a nonprofit online video news organization that aims to provide a thoughtful counterweight to today’s 24/7 news cycle.