Two months ago, joining forces from right and left, GOP Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) backed an amendment that would have ended the shipment of various categories of military-grade armaments to local police forces under the 1033 program, which has shipped billions of dollars’ worth of such equipment to local forces in recent years. Among items that would no longer have been made available, had the amendment passed: “aircraft (including unmanned aerial vehicles), armored vehicles, grenade launchers, silencers, toxicological agents (including chemical agents, biological agents, and associated equipment), launch vehicles, guided missiles” and so forth.
The full House voted down the amendment by a vote of 355 to 62. Leadership from both parties opposed the amendment, which won votes from 19 Republicans and 43 Democrats.
So how did the Maryland delegation come down? Only Democrats Donna Edwards and John Sarbanes voted to end the flow of military gear, while Democrats John Delaney, Chris Van Hollen, Elijah Cummings, Dutch Ruppersberger, and Steny Hoyer and Republican Andy Harris joined Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner in voting no.
Zaid Jilani at Vanity Fair writes that “Congress has been a willing participant in the arming of the police for years now, and the man most responsible for this trend graduated from Congress to the executive branch: Vice President Joe Biden.” Jilani also notes that defense equipment producers and police interests form a powerful combined lobby to keep the program big. On the role of Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, who of course is himself a senior Democratic leader in the House:
Hoyer is one of the two members who have received thousands of dollars from the National Fraternal Order of Police (F.O.P.) in this campaign cycle. As tensions continued to mount in Ferguson, F.O.P.’s executive director Jim Pasco defended the militarization of police officers. “All police are doing is taking advantage of the advances of technology in terms of surveillance, in terms of communication and in terms of protective equipment that are available to criminals on the street,” Pasco told The Hill on Thursday.
Maryland’s own statewide F.O.P., it should be noted, just endorsed Democrat Anthony Brown for governor.
If Maryland representatives, especially those representing liberal and African-American communities, seek to reverse the militarization trend in view of public reaction to the scenes from Ferguson, Mo., it will be their own record most of them will need to run away from. Incidentally, I’m scheduled to join radio host Diane Rehm tomorrow (Monday) at 10 a.m. on her popular WAMU program to discuss police militarization; you can find more of my recent writing on the subject at links here and here.
To see how your Representative voted, follow this link.