Our Opinion: Police don't need military weaponry

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President Trump's ongoing drive to undo the efforts of his predecessor now include rolling back an Obama administration executive order that blocked armored vehicles, high-caliber weapons and other heavy military equipment from being re-purposed from foreign battlegrounds to America's streets. Thankfully, Berkshire police departments are having none of it ("Local police: Military gear `not on our radar,'" October 16).

You may recall in 2014 in Missouri how Ferguson police responding to protests of the killing of a teenager by a police officer were equipped as if they were GIs rolling into Basra. Americans wondered if the fully-armored Ferguson police were the rule or the exception around the nation. Weeks later, the White House provided the answer when it reported that 5,235 Humvees, 617 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs) and 616 aircraft had made their way from the Pentagon, often as war surplus, to local law enforcement. Armored vehicles and other military gear were also used by police during the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

That year, President Obama announced a ban on the transfer of such provocative weaponry to local law enforcement. In a time when community relations between police and their constituents reached a low not seen in a generation, particularly with communities of color, the ban served as a not-so-subtle statement from the president to law enforcement that their mindset should be one of "guardian" rather than a "warrior."

"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," President Obama said at the time. "It can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message."

Congress originally launched the so-called "1033 program" in 1990, allowing the Defense Department to allocate surplus hardware and equipment to state and local law enforcement for use in "counter-drug activities." Massachusetts has been participating in the program since 1994. More than $5 billion in surplus gear has been funneled to law enforcement agencies nationwide, according to The New York Times, including in the Berkshires. No doubt some of the equipment has been helpful to law enforcement, such as boats, training uniforms and pick-up trucks that towns might not otherwise have been able to afford. But by overturning a ban specific to war-related equipment, including grenade launchers, President Trump, a man who clearly suffers from weapons envy, makes a not-so-subtle statement of support for the "militarization" of the police, whether they want it or not.

We hope they don't — throughout Berkshire County.


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