President Trump has once again successfully kept himself in the headlines this week in more ways than one. However, while many people have been looking for his reactions to certain events like Hurricane Harvey, the potential threat of North Korea, and national march against white supremacy, the President has only continued doing pretty much the only thing he’s done since taking office: reversing policies that Obama put in place. This week, it came in the form of police weaponry.
On Monday, Trump signed an executive order that would repeal former President Obama’s 2015 bill that banned or restricted the use of certain military weapons and machinery. The original rule was proposed by the Obama administration following rising tensions within the Black Lives Matter movement, specifically after the protests in Ferguson, Missouri and the shooting of Michael Brown. The specifics of the bill included banning certain caliber guns, grenade launchers, armored tanks and bayonets, among other things. It also placed restrictions on devices like riot helmets, shields and batons, wheeled armored vehicles, and battering rams to name a few (https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/8/28/16214600/trump-police-military-sessions). This bill did not make it impossible to obtain items on the ‘restricted’ list, however, they just required more paperwork and justification to obtain.
The original policy regarding military equipment in the hands of local police was first addressed in the 1990’s, when police officers were first being given access to these items. However, they were not necessarily given the weapons solely out of need, but generally because there was an excess of these materials to begin with, and they were to originally be used specifically in the fight against the drug war in America. Of course, as time went on these weapons were used in other situations.
Trump’s repeal of this bill will once again make these military weapons accessible for local police officers with no explanation or justification necessary. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, announced on Monday that this change will come as part of an effort made by President Trump to do “all he can to restore law and order and support our police across America” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/28/us/politics/trump-police-military-surplus-equipment.html?mcubz=0). He went on to claim that “Obama’s restrictions went too far. We will not put superficial concerns above public safety.”
However, the concerns of the public regarding this issue are not only “superficial” issues as Trump and Sessions might think. With the rise of protests against police brutality and violence, it seems that giving officers the ability to have more powerful, military-grade equipment would be the last thing to “restore law and order” as Trump wants. While it is undoubtedly imperative that our police officers remain safe while they do their job, restoring their ability to acquire these weapons will only add fuel to the fire and enrage protesters more. In making people feel intimidated by and afraid of the police, Trump is only provoking the problem that already exists within the system.
Of course, this program is not all negative. There are positive aspects of having the police use military equipment, especially when you look at the situation economically. In the past, this program has helped saved money for police stations requesting the use of this equipment, which can be helpful in underfunded areas. However, the question is still posed: why do these officers even need this equipment to begin with?
Over the past few years, the reputation and approval of America’s police forces has been declining in the eyes of many people. The retraction of Obama’s bill will only act to continue this trend, rather than reverse it. If America wants to regain the trust that has been by our police officers, we need to be reminded that they are there first and foremost to protect us, not to harm us. By giving police officers this equipment, they are being even more alienated from their status as local protectors, and become more oppressive and intimidating by nature.
President Trump’s decision to allow military-grade equipment to be used by local police only goes to show his poor understanding of what our country needs. In a time where the distrust for our police force is rising at an alarming rate, we need to try to remember that the police are supposed to be our first line of protection and defense rather than a body to be feared, no matter what type of equipment they are carrying.
Emma Hungaski is the associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.