By a vote of 355 “no” votes to 62 “yes” votes the United States House of Representatives voted down Thursday night an amendment offered by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act (HR 4870) that would have curtailed the transfer of US military equipment to local police.
Grayson explained on the House floor that he offered his amendment “to address a growing problem throughout our country, which is the militarization of local law enforcement agencies.” In particular Grayson expressed concern about documentation in the New York Times of huge transfers of military weapons and equipment to local police and the overkill use of transferred items in ordinary law enforcement, even in raids to enforce barber and liquor license laws, instead of in response to nonexistent terrorism.
The Times article Grayson mentions documents that the transfers involve a long list of military weapons and equipment including, since 2006 alone, 432 Mine-resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicles (MRAPs), 435 other armored vehicles, 533 planes and helicopters, and 92,763 machine guns. The Times article also lists grenade launchers, silencers, and other items among the transferred military items.
As Grayson explained in the debate, his amendment would have limited effect. The amendment would not reverse any of the transfers that have already taken place, and it would allow transfers of guns and ammunition to continue unimpeded. What the amendment would do according to its language is stop the transfer under a Department of Defense program of the following items: “aircraft (including unmanned aerial vehicles), armored vehicles, grenade launchers, silencers, toxicological agents (including chemical agents, biological agents and associated equipment), launch vehicles, guided missiles, ballistic missiles, rockets, torpedoes, bombs, mines or nuclear weapons.”
While the Times article does not list nuclear weapons among military items transferred to local police, Grayson including them to the list makes the point that, as the law stands, there is virtually no limit on what weapons and equipment may be transferred.
In opposition to Grayson in the debate two representatives figuratively put their hands over their respective eyes and ears and said they saw and heard no evil in the actions of local police. They presented this argument despite the decades long rise of SWAT culminating in what Rutherford Institute President John W. Whitehead terms an escalating “epidemic of police violence.”
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), who is Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, speaking in opposition to the amendment pronounced the blanket statement that the military items are “not misused” and, instead, are used “to make sure that all of our citizens are protected.”
Frelinghuysen then introduced Rep. Rich Nugent (R-FL), whom Frelinghuysen described as a former sheriff. Nugent proceeded to one-up Frelinghuysen’s fantasyland representation of police use of this military equipment, stating:
This is absolutely ludicrous to think that the equipment that is utilized by law enforcement is utilized for any reason except for public safety interests, and it happens across this nation every day in a responsible way.
What happens across the country every day are SWAT raids – tens of thousands of them a year, in fact. And these raids are, as explained by Grayson on the House floor, often employed as a matter of course, even to address suspected petty legal offenses. The result is deaths, injuries, emotional trauma, property destruction, and withering respect for individual rights. Indeed, it is absolutely ludicrous to defend this practice and, even worse, to promote it as advancing public safety.
Watch the House floor debate on Grayson’s amendment here: