Where Are Mayors Opposing Police Militarization?

In cities across the United States, we have seen how the militarized mold of policing and the supply of armored vehicles, assault weapons and the like have resulted in police forces who no longer see their role as one of protecting and serving, but as an occupying army. These localized armies — backed by racist laws, upheld by stagnant leadership and fueled by the war machine itself — are battling it out to the death with the very civilians they swore to protect in our own streets. Confrontation with this war-ready mentality is a daily lived experience for black and brown citizens across the country, and the implications impact us all. It is incumbent to get weapons out of our streets, and take the necessary steps to change the current mentality and methods of police and civilian engagement. We must return to a state where law enforcement serves and protects the communities they are in, and we need the support of local leadership to do so.

In 2011, Mayor Kitty Piercy of Eugene, Oregon championed CODEPINK’s “Bring Our War Dollars Home Resolution” at the US Conference of Mayors. Along with the fearless leadership of 20 other visionary leaders who co-sponsored the resolution, we celebrated its unanimous adoption. This resolution was the first anti-war resolution since the Vietnam War to address military spending, and called for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Months ago, as the snow began to melt and the #BlackSpring emerged, CODEPINK drafted a resolution calling for the demilitarization of local law enforcement, which included putting restrictions and regulations on the Department of Defense’s 1033 program, and prioritizing the need for cultural sensitivity training. This resolution went out to a group of Mayors, set to attend the US Conference of Mayors, June 18th- 22nd 2015 in San Francisco, with hopes of gaining support and sponsorship. Most notably the resolution was sent to the Mayors’ part of the standing committee roster for Criminal and Social Justice.

On May 18th 2015, President Obama announced a plan to ban certain military weapons from reaching the hands of local law enforcement, citing the feeling of “an occupying force” and subsequent tensions between police and communities of color. With the call to reform law enforcement at a local level echoing throughout communities nationwide, and the President announcing his own plan for reform — surely some mayor stepped would step up to champion this resolution….

Not a single Mayor stepped up.

Locally elected officials hold the power to make a difference in our own communities. To neglect that opportunity means risking more lives for the sake of the status quo. We applaud and honor actions taken to call for an end to war on a global scale — but who is there to call for an end to the wars carnage in our own streets?

Where are the mayors who stand for local peace?

According to the The Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services, since its inception in 1990 the 1033 Program has transferred more than $5.1 billion in property. Although some of the equipment was created in the military arena and, in many cases, was created for military use, law enforcement agencies have been able to repurpose the property for domestic law enforcement uses. Currently, “over 8,000 U.S. federal and state law enforcement agencies, from all 50 states and the U.S. territories participate in the program. A law enforcement agency is defined as a “government agency whose primary function is the enforcement of applicable federal, state, and local laws and whose compensated law enforcement officers have the powers of arrest and apprehension.”

According to The Guardian, as of June 16, 2015 the number of people killed by law enforcement in the United States is 515– that number reflects this year alone.

U.S. mayors need to look at the record, read the names, view the photos and videos and listen to their constituents who have experienced, or fear experiencing, the horror of having a loved one die in this way.

Illustrating the real-life pain and implications of the pernicious wedge that has been driven between the public and local law enforcement agencies is The Millions Mom March. This past Mother’s Day, CODEPINK marched with a rally of dozens of grieving mothers, whose children were taken from them by police and racist vigilante violence. The rally to the Justice Department in D.C. demanded an end to racist and fatal police practices.

Mayors must show up for the powerful rallies remembering those killed by police; commit to ending these killings and other abuse; and promote peaceful methods of resolving conflict, dealing with the mentally ill, and supporting the rights of all — no matter the race, color, sexual orientation or national origin. Mayors want to be proud of their cities. Ending police violence and abuse of city residents will go a long way toward making American cities places for genuine, not forced, civic pride.

In the words of Reverend Wanda Johnson, whose son Oscar Grant was unjustly killed by a policeman on a San Francisco, BART platform on January 1, 2009:

“We have had enough of police militarization and violence, which only perpetuates fear in our communities. We deserve to live in peace and we deserve justice for the crimes committed against our children.”

The world is watching and acting; and grieving communities are waiting, desperately for change… for justice.

To our Mayors… where do you stand?