Several months before all the furor in Ferguson, Missouri, we were chatting with an old friend about the many police forces around the country which were lately acquiring such surplus military equipment as tanks and armed aircraft. Our friend is a conservative of the old-fashioned law-and-order variety and couldn’t understand the controversy that had briefly boiled up about it in right-wing circles, even if it was a result of an Obama administration program, but he had to admit we had a point when we wondered if the President and his Attorney General intended that the equipment would be used to put down a race riot. The notion that the government was gearing up to put down broader dissent against some planned outrage would have once seemed paranoid to both our friend and us, but we agreed that these days it doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
The conversation came to mind when the most recent race riot broke out in Ferguson, following a grand jury’s decision not to indict a white a white police officer for the shooting of an unarmed teenager when irrefutable evidence showed that it was a case of self-defense, and the President and his Attorney General warned against excessive police force and a governor of the same party waited until much of the town had been burned and looted before deploying the National Guard. Our most dire fears have not yet been realized, but our suspicion that all that surplus military equipment sold to police forces was not intended to put down a race riot seemed clearly confirmed. Further confirmation came Monday when the President announced yet another of those executive orders he’s so fond of, this one ordering that the various agencies selling the equipment keep careful track of it and review any “significant” incidents in which it is used.
Seen in the broader context of the president’s efforts to assure the rioters that he understands their rage about police officers defending themselves against deadly threats, it appears likely that those reviews will find fault with any use of the equipment for such routine law enforcement responsibilities as putting down race riots. A generous interpretation would be that he’s merely trying to keep the story alive for a few more days to distract attention from his executive order legalizing five million or so illegal immigrants and thus inviting millions more in to enjoy the blessings of post-racial America, and that the executive order was merely meant to distract attention from the eight trillion or so of national debt that has already been added during his administration, or any of the scandals at the Internal Revenue Service or the National Security Administration or Department of Justice that make the more paranoid theories seem not at all far-fetched, but we still can’t help wondering how all the surplus military equipment is intended to be used.
— Bud Norman