Sunday, August 24, 2014

Obama Orders Review of Police Use of Military Hardware Following Ferguson Rebellion
Militarized police stand guard in Ferguson, MO.
24 Aug 2014, 1:54

US president Barack Obama has ordered an investigation into whether it is "appropriate" for the military to sell battle-grade hardware to local police, a senior US official says.

The order follows widespread criticism of local authorities' use of military gear in Ferguson, Missouri after the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer.

Images of police wielding military-style guns and armour during clashes with protesters have shocked many American lawmakers and civil rights groups.

The official said Mr Obama "has directed a review of federal programs and funding that enable state and local law enforcement to purchase military equipment".

The review will consider "whether these programs are appropriate", whether training with the equipment is sufficient, and whether there is enough federal oversight of the gear's use.

The investigation will be headed by "White House staff including the Domestic Policy Council, the National Security Council [and] the Office of Management and Budget", the official said.

A growing number of lawmakers have voiced concern about the militarisation of US police forces through programs administered by the Pentagon, Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security.

Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who heads the oversight subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, announced plans this week for a hearing in September about the programs.

Key concerns include a clause in the program that requires police to use the equipment within a year, something the American Civil Liberties Union argues may give police forces an incentive to use the equipment in inappropriate situations.

The program also does not mandate training for crowd control or other uses.

The Pentagon has transferred more than $US4 billion ($4.2 billion) of equipment including armoured vehicles, tents, rifles and night-vision goggles to local and state agencies since 2006, of which about 36 per cent involved new equipment.

US weapons makers have been eyeing what they call "adjacent" markets for years, keen to drum up fresh demand for products initially developed for the military, and recently, to offset declines in US and European military spending.

Faced with a dwindling number of big-ticket military contracts, even the Pentagon's largest suppliers such as Lockheed Martin Corp and Northrop Grumman Corp are competing for increasingly smaller contracts in commercial or non-military markets, analysts and industry executives said.

Meanwhile, demonstrators in Ferguson have marked two weeks since Mr Brown's death, holding quieter protests as supporters of the officer rallied separately, calling the shooting justified.

Mr Brown's funeral, set to take place Monday, is likely to be a focal point for more demonstrations by angry protesters demanding that Darren Wilson, the policeman who pulled the shot the teenager at least six times, face justice.

Little information has been released about the investigation into the shooting and a grand jury began hearing evidence on Wednesday in a process the county prosecutor has said could run until mid-October.


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