By Alex Lasry
Tuesday marked one year since the murder of George Floyd.
In the last year, we’ve seen some incremental steps forward toward a more equitable society. But it is not enough. We need to continue to fight against systemic racism and make real progress toward meaningful police reform.
There are steps that can be taken right now to honor George Floyd’s memory and help fix the broken system.
On the federal level, the U.S. Senate needs to stop delaying and swiftly move forward to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. This legislation would ban chokeholds, carotid holds and “no-knock” search warrants, create a national database of police misconduct, end qualified immunity, and end the militarization of our police departments.
While some of the provisions in the bill like those that end chokeholds, end “no-knock warrants” and end qualified immunity, have received a lot of media coverage, ending the militarization of police departments across this country has received far less attention than it merits.
The militarization of our police first started during George H. W. Bush’s Administration through the “1033 Program.” The federal government started to provide surplus military equipment to law enforcement agencies, including local police departments and even some school district police.
This program was then turbo charged under President George W. Bush’s Administration, with bureaucrats at the Department of Defense pushing out equipment returned directly from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to local law enforcement.
While the reuse of equipment may sound like a good deal for taxpayers, it’s had a transformational effect on how local police deal with conflicts. When you dig into what equipment police departments received, you see the transfer of tactical armored vehicles, heavy weaponry, watercraft and aircraft. This dramatically reshaped not only the firepower and capabilities of law enforcement, but just as importantly, the tactics they employed.
Since the Bush years, we have seen a dramatic increase in the utilization of armored tactical vehicles in response to peaceful protests. Last summer all across America, and even here in Wisconsin, we saw peaceful demonstrations met with tactical assault vehicles that were designed for the battlefield, deployed against our neighbors on our city streets.
Even putting aside the fact that the use of these vehicles is an excessive and disproportionate response, the mere presence of these armored vehicles escalates the situation on the ground, while leaving those watching on the news with the impression that protesters are creating a violent or dangerous situation.
It doesn’t have to be like this and shouldn’t be this way.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act ends this practice and will finally start to demilitarize our police departments. It would end new transfers but does not eliminate the equipment on the ground. This isn’t and can’t be about leaving our police outgunned or vulnerable to those with more fire power. This is instead focused on returning our local police departments to a civilian force, not a military force.