In case anyone was still wondering about the purpose of the hyper-publicized violent clashes between “white nationalists” and Antifa, the Trump administration’s latest move has made it painfully clear. Attorney General and 1950s throwback Jeff Sessions announced that the administration will resume donating “surplus” military equipment to state and local police forces across the country. Americans bludgeoned into a condition of fear by the unrelenting coverage of Charlottesville and its aftermath over the past few weeks are expected to welcome this rollout of the new and improved police state with open arms. After all, neo-nazis are scary, and the ADL says they’re all around you. Liberty is once again to be traded for security. After almost two decades of gratuitous flogging, the word “terrorism” no longer strikes fear into Americans’ hearts; nazis and white hate groups are the fear stimulus du jour meant to drive us into the arms of the police state.
Even Trump’s most fervent supporters have a difficult time making excuses for Sessions, an unreconstructed drug warrior who wants to turn back the clock on marijuana legalization despite paying lip service to states’ rights. Sessions also favors ramping up civil asset forfeiture, the one policy democrats AND republicans can agree has served as the incentive for the most hideous abuses of power by local police forces in the past few decades. It’s no surprise he is an enthusiastic supporter of police militarization. Sessions historically shies away from a fair fight, refusing to go after Hillary Clinton for an encyclopedic list of crimes despite Trump’s campaign promises to “lock her up,” but loves an unfair advantage, pushing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. Mandatory minimums have stuffed the nation’s prisons with victimless “criminals,” disproportionately poor and nonwhite, and have not led to a reduction in drug use, but drug addicts and dealers are easy targets for a bully like Sessions. Outfitting police with the best the US military has to offer - one-third of this “surplus” is brand new equipment - and siccing them on the American people is right up his alley.
The distribution of military equipment to civilian police was curtailed by Obama in 2015 in the wake of nationwide protests following the murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner by police. Rather than calling for the prosecution of those officers for their crimes, the president ended the program that had gifted over $18 billion worth of grenade launchers, bayonets, tanks, drones, armored trucks and other combat equipment to police forces across the country. This token gesture saved him a confrontation with his pet police state, as departments were allowed to keep their toys with nary a slap on the wrist for using them to murder unarmed civilians and quash the resulting protests. Body cameras, which soon revealed an unfortunate tendency to go dark when shots were fired, were lauded as the solution to the epidemic of police misconduct, and 25% of jurisdictions adopted them by the end of that year. Meanwhile, the Obama administration continued to vociferously gobble up Americans’ civil liberties unopposed, prosecuting whistleblowers at a higher rate than any previous administration as its security agencies wolfed down our metadata and conversations via warrantless wiretaps (fun fact: Robert Mueller, the former FBI director now in charge of the farcical “Russiagate” investigation, spearheaded the Obama FBI’s expansion of warrantless wiretapping).
As Rand Paul, one of the few congresspeople who does not make me want to projectile vomit, outlines in his op-ed concerning Sessions’ announcement, further militarizing police forces will lead to more unconstitutional warrantless searches, more no-knock raids, more innocent people killed by cops, and further swelling of the prison population. Private prisons are already holding their host counties hostage, threatening to liquidate hundreds of jobs if states don’t fork over hundreds of prisoners. For a nation that calls itself the land of the free, we imprison more people per capita than any other country on earth, an irony which is utterly lost on Sessions and the Trump administration.
Police already operate with impunity in this country, as demonstrated by the lack of convictions (and in most cases even indictments) for the murderers of Brown, Garner, Philando Castile, Paula Bland, Akai Gurley, and countless other innocent victims. Outfitting them with military-grade weaponry goes beyond the Obama administration’s policy of ignoring their crimes and rewards them for a job well done. Trump praised police brutality in a speech to Long Island cops, admonishing them to be less “nice” when arresting suspects, and pardoned former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, a hero in law enforcement circles for his brutal and humiliating treatment of prisoners. The police are an occupying army, a phalanx of uniformed thugs paid by the ruling class with our tax dollars to keep the American people in line. The Trump administration's reinstatement of the military surplus program makes it that much more obvious.