August 16, 2014

I saw a lot of coverage of Ferguson, Missouri in the last few days. But I didn't see any photos of Georgia Republican congressional candidate Jody Hice. Hice never showed up-- or maybe he was hiding under something. Gun Owners of America only spent independent money on one candidate so far this cycle: Jody Hice and that may be because of Hice's most famous quote: "It is my belief that any, any, any, any weapon that our government and law enforcement possesses ought to be allowed for individuals to possess in this country, provided they can afford it." He goes on the explain why people should have cannons and bazookas and missiles. Maybe I'm wrong but I don't think Hice was talking about African-American men there.

Last month I was back at my old college campus for the first time since 1969. Turns out, the driver who picked me up at the airport had been a narc in Operation Stony Brook, an operation largely met to bust me. Long story but it helped persuade me to do something the War in Vietnam really made me want to do-- leave the country.

A year after I left I walked over to the Kabul central post office and picked up some mail. The postmaster, a relative of the king's, later became my business partner but we were still just getting to know each other then. He handed me a letter from one of my best friends, Helen, she told me about the massacre at Kent State. I was never going back, at least not while Nixon was president. She doesn't remember this-- nor does anyone else-- but she told me that American students had decided to boycott Coke and Pepsi products and cause the two companies to collapse as a response to the massacre. As far as I know, I'm the only person in the world who boycotted-- a boycott that was 1- very difficult because the water in Afghanistan was not potable; 2- very healthy because Coke and Pepsi cause cancer; and 3- something I have continued to this day. I take my boycotts seriously.

The other day we noticed that Rand Paul is quite a bit more evolved than Jody Hice. We took a look at his OpEd in Time on the police violence in Ferguson, which began with the murder of an 18 year old boy by a virulent and very public racist slob with a badge. Rand, like Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, came out strongly against the militarization of American police forces:

The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action.

Glenn Reynolds, in Popular Mechanics, recognized the increasing militarization of the police five years ago. In 2009 he wrote:

Soldiers and police are supposed to be different. … Police look inward. They’re supposed to protect their fellow citizens from criminals, and to maintain order with a minimum of force.

It’s the difference between Audie Murphy and Andy Griffith. But nowadays, police are looking, and acting, more like soldiers than cops, with bad consequences. And those who suffer the consequences are usually innocent civilians.

The Cato Institute’s Walter Olson observed this week how the rising militarization of law enforcement is currently playing out in Ferguson:

Why armored vehicles in a Midwestern inner suburb? Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors? Why are the authorities in Ferguson, Mo. so given to quasi-martial crowd control methods (such as bans on walking on the street) and, per the reporting of Riverfront Times, the firing of tear gas at people in their own yards? (“‘This my property!’ he shouted, prompting police to fire a tear gas canister directly at his face.”) Why would someone identifying himself as an 82nd Airborne Army veteran, observing the Ferguson police scene, comment that “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone”?

Olson added, “the dominant visual aspect of the story, however, has been the sight of overpowering police forces confronting unarmed protesters who are seen waving signs or just their hands.”

How did this happen?

Most police officers are good cops and good people. It is an unquestionably difficult job, especially in the current circumstances.

There is a systemic problem with today’s law enforcement.

Not surprisingly, big government has been at the heart of the problem. Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies—where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement.

This is usually done in the name of fighting the war on drugs or terrorism. The Heritage Foundation’s Evan Bernick wrote in 2013 that, “the Department of Homeland Security has handed out anti-terrorism grants to cities and towns across the country, enabling them to buy armored vehicles, guns, armor, aircraft, and other equipment.”

Bernick continued, “federal agencies of all stripes, as well as local police departments in towns with populations less than 14,000, come equipped with SWAT teams and heavy artillery.”

Bernick noted the cartoonish imbalance between the equipment some police departments possess and the constituents they serve, “today, Bossier Parish, Louisiana, has a .50 caliber gun mounted on an armored vehicle. The Pentagon gives away millions of pieces of military equipment to police departments across the country-- tanks included.”

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.

Given these developments, it is almost impossible for many Americans not to feel like their government is targeting them. 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.

Rand never had the chance to vote on an amendment that attempted to stop that militarization of local police forces. He didn't get a chance because the amendment, written by Alan Grayson (D-FL) was killed by the leadership of the two political parties. You kind of expect Boehner, Cantor, Ryan and McCarthy to oppose this kind of thing-- to prohibit use of funds to transfer aircraft (including unmanned aerial vehicles), armored vehicles, grenade launchers, silencers, toxicological agents, launch vehicles, guided missiles, ballistic missiles-- but you may be more surprised to know that every Democratic leader-- Pelosi, Hoyer, Clyburn, Israel, Wasserman Schultz-- saw eye to eye with the worst of the Republicans. Grayson's amendment failed 62-355.

Grayson, who has been the most successful Member of Congress, on either side of the aisle, on building bipartisan consensus and passing amendments, couldn't even get any of his fellow Floridian Democrats, other than Kathy Castor vote yes. Not when New Dem reactionaries Wasserman Schultz and her Patrick Murphy were adamantly against it, voting with Republican militarists John Mica, Daniel Webster, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. 19 Republicans voted for Grayson's amendment, the House's two GOP moderate-- Chris Gibson and Tom Petri-- a handful of libertarians-- Justin Amash, Walter Jones, Tom Massie, Raul Labrador, Jimmy Duncan-- and the crackpot extremists who just want to vote for as many things Boehner opposes as possible-- nuts like Paul Broun, Steve Stockman, Jim Jordan and Jim Bridenstine.

And the 43 Democrats who ignored Pelosi and Hoyer and voted with Grayson? Mostly progressives plus a few Blue Dogs who just want to always voted the other way that Pelosi votes and be counted among the Republicans on as many issues as possible. I'll let you sort it out, although I will mention that the bolded names are Members who Blue America has vetted and endorsed:

• John Barrow (Blue Dog-GA)

• Earl Blumenauer (OR)

• Bruce Braley (IA)

• Tony Cárdenas (CA)

• Matt Cartwright (PA)

• Kathy Castor (FL)

• Judy Chu (CA)

• John Conyers (MI)

• Donna Edwards (MD)
• Keith Ellison (MN)

• Alan Grayson (FL)

• Raul Grijalva (AZ)

• Rush Holt (NJ)

• Mike Honda (CA)

• Hank Johnson (GA)

• Barbara Lee (CA)

• John Lewis (GA)

• Dan Maffei (NY)

• Jim Matheson (Blue Dog-UT)

• Doris Matsui (CA)

• Jim McDermott (WA)

• Jim McGovern (CA)

• Jerry McNerney (CA)

• George Miller (CA)

• Jerry Nadler (NY)

• Gloria Negrete McLeod (CA)

• Beto O'Rourke (TX)
• Frank Pallone (NJ)

• Ed Perlmutter(CO)

• Mark Pocan (WI)

• Loretta Sanchez (Blue Dog-CA)

• John Sarbanes (MD)

• Jan Schakowsky (IL)

• Bobby Scott (VA)

• Jose Serrano (NY)

• Louise Slaughter (NY)

• Adam Smith (WA)

• Jackie Speier (CA)

• Mark Takano (CA)

• John Tierney (MA)

• Paul Tonko (NY)

• Nydia Velázquez (NY)

• Maxine Waters (CA)

This is a vote worth keeping in mind when you go to the polls in November. My Blue Dog/New Dem militarist congressman, Adam Schiff, voted NO, of course. I'll vote for him when I order a Diet Pepsi.

Can you help us out?

For 18 years we have been exposing Washington lies and untangling media deceit, but now Facebook is drowning us in an ocean of right wing lies. Please give a one-time or recurring donation, or buy a year's subscription for an ad-free experience. Thank you.


We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.