On Thursday, the House Armed Services Committee will finally hear from the Pentagon’s top officials about the use of military force by civilian law enforcement, including clearing Lafayette Square in front of the White House of peaceful protesters to enable a photo op for the president.
It’s an overdue reckoning on the damage created by the Pentagon’s influence on community policing. Let’s hope that the top leaders not only talk about what they regret from that day — Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has already stated that he shouldn’t have been a part of the photo op — but also take ownership of the role the Pentagon played in getting us here. Cutting the organization’s budget is a must for police reform.
Over the past month, peaceful protesters have taken to the streets. Instead of protecting and serving the millions who called for the transformation of law enforcement, many police departments used violence and intimidation. To complete this war-like image, police officers have appeared in head-to-toe military gear alongside armored vehicles and military-grade protections.
The gear itself is a tangible sign of the divide between the police and the people.
Throwing weapons and money at problems — especially without appropriate oversight mechanisms — never makes things better and usually makes things much worse.
Police culture will never change as long as we’re putting military-grade weapons in the hands of individual law enforcement officers. But we’ve been doing just that for so long that the country’s militarized response to protests shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Recently, 23 former homeland and national security leaders signed a letter condemning President Donald Trump’s actions against protesters: “Our laws and time-tested experience carefully delineate the proper roles of civilian and military authorities, including the use of national guard units under the authority of state governors to support police,” the letter reads. “The deployment of active duty military forces must be reserved for the most extreme circumstances, and the mostly peaceful protests across the nation did not warrant such a response.”