Sen. Rand Paul
was right about the dangers of militarizing local police, two Missouri Democratic lawmakers concede.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, meeting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday at the Pentagon to urge cutting back a program that gives military hardware to local police, said strife-torn Ferguson, Missouri, reminds him of a war zone.
"It looked like Fallujah. It looked like the Iraqi war," he told The Hill.
"Rand Paul was right. He talked about how we cannot militarize our cities. That's what it looked like. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I grew up in the South during the civil rights days."
In his column for Time.com, Paul wrote "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 Kentucky Republican blamed Washington, which he wrote "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."
Cleaver and fellow Missouri Rep. Lacy Clay, both African-Americans, argue that military-grade equipment was never intended to be used against acts of civil disobedience.
"My concerns about the program is that it’s not being used for its original intent, which was to arm police forces for a terrorism act or a well-armed drug cartel," he told The Hill.
"In the last week, I have witnessed my own constituents who are peaceful protesters having this military equipment used against them."
St. Louis County police officers — wearing combat gear, toting assault rifles and moving around in mine-resistant vehicles — have been patrolling Ferguson to monitor protests in the wake of the Aug. 9 fatal police shooting of unarmed teen.
"They are staring down the barrels of these machine guns and these heavy armored vehicles, and I think it’s overkill," Clay told The Hill, referring to protesters. Clay's district includes Ferguson.
Clay and Cleaver believe Hagel can act on his own authority to limit the transfer of weapons and equipment to small police forces that may not have the right training. The weapons are given by the Pentagon through the 1033 program, which Congress set up in the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act, The Hill reports.
"In a small town, it gives the appearance of the military patrolling an occupied territory.
There’s a need for some major adjustments to the program," Cleaver said. "I am convinced that the secretary can make the changes in the program without Congress giving direction."
In recent speeches, Paul, who is considering a run at the White House in 2016, has touted criminal justice reform as a platform from which to launch an outreach
to African-American voters, and the move has been welcomed by some GOP leaders, including former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.
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