On Monday, President Barack Obama said he believed there will be bipartisan interest in demilitarizing some aspects of local police forces after recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, that Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) – and many others – said turned the area into a war zone.
Obama made his comments at a White House press conference after an intense night in which rioters reportedly opened fire at police while others looted multiple stores in Ferguson. That prompted Gov. Jay Nixon (D) to order the National Guard to Ferguson. As Breitbart News reported, gas masks and bulletproof vests are sold out in the city after days of confrontations.
Obama said that “after 9/11, I think understandably a lot of folks saw local communities that were ill-equipped for a potential catastrophic terrorist attack.” He said those in Congress therefore decided that “we gotta make sure they get proper equipment to deal with threats that historically wouldn’t arise in local communities.”
Obama cited examples in which communities have been benefited by the equipment before, continuing, “having said that, I think it’s probably useful for us to review how the funding has gone, how local law enforcement has used grant dollars, to make sure” that what they are buying “is stuff that they actually need.”
“I think that there will be some bipartisan interest in reexamining some of those programs,” Obama said.
Last week Paul, in a piece that has been praised by the likes of Al Sharpton and Obama mentor and Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree, wrote in Time that “Americans must never sacrifice their liberty for an illusive and dangerous, or false, security,” and “the images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action.”
“When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury–national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture–we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands,” Paul wrote. “The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm. It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime. It is quite another for them to subsidize it.”
Paul said that “it is almost impossible for many Americans not to feel like their government is targeting them,” and “given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.”
“Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention,” he argued. “Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences for non-violent mistakes in their youth.”
Obama said “there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don’t want those lines blurred. That would be contrary to our traditions.”
“I think one of the great things about the United States has been our ability to maintain a distinction between our military and domestic law enforcement,” Obama continued Monday. “That helps preserve our civil liberties. That helps ensure that the military is accountable to civilian direction. And that has to be preserved.”