Says U.S. Rep. John Lewis in an MSNBC interview:
“Ferguson, Missouri, is not the Congo. It’s not China. It is not Russia. We can do better. It takes me back to the ‘40s, the ‘50s, the ‘60s. To have a city that is majority African-American and only three African-Americans on the police force? Or to have local police officers referring to protestors as animals? Or to have people dress in military garment and pointing rifles directly at the protestors – that is only going to incite people.
"My own feeling is that President Obama should use the authority of his office to declare martial law. Federalize the Missouri National Guard to protect people as they protest."
Here's a full emailed statement sent out by Lewis' office a few minutes ago:
"The death of Michael Brown is a grave tragedy the community of Ferguson, Missouri should not have to bear. How many more young men of color will be killed before we realize that we have a problem in America? We are permitting the incarceration and shooting of thousands of black and brown boys in their formative years who might have become great artists, leaders, scientists, or lawyers if we had offered them our support instead of our suspicion.
"It is a shame and a disgrace that a city with a significant African American population has only three representatives from that community on the police force. What kind of a police department is it that would refer to the people it should be trying to protect as animals? It is unbelievable that these ideas could run rampant in 2014. This is not 1940 or 1950 in America, but today it is hard to see the difference.
"This is not China or Russia or Syria. This is America, and in this country we have a right to protest in a peaceful, orderly non-violent fashion, and the press should be free to cover these protests without fear. The police should not interfere in the exercise of these constitutional rights. If people are not allowed to express their dissatisfaction through peaceful protest, they will find other means to make their voices heard.
"This is a good time to consider the words of Martin Luther King Jr., who said that "Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice." I am glad the federal government will make an independent investigation of these matters.
"I urge every agency, every department, every community, every official and every person involved in this conflict to allow the whole truth to emerge so that peace--true peace and real justice will be the result. "My prayers are with the family of Michael Brown who lost their hope for a better future, with the city of Ferguson which has become the crucible of this conflict, and my prayers are for this nation still struggling with the scars and stains of racial discrimination, wanton violence, and flagrant injustice."
On the topic of militarization, Reason.com and several other outlets are pointing to this YouTube video – until days ago posted on the website of the Doraville, Ga., police department – as an example of how suburban SWAT teams view themselves:
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, is trying to rally support on Capitol Hill to curtail the distribution of military surplus to local cops, amid images from Ferguson, Mo., of armored divisions of police quelling protests.
Johnson plans to introduce the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act in September, and expects the shooting death of a black Ferguson teenager in an altercation with police and the police response will help gin up support -- even though Johnson has been working on the issue for months. Johnson told colleagues in a letter that the bill will do two things:
- It will limit the type of equipment that can be transferred;
- It will require that states certify that they can account for all equipment.
Johnson notes that local departments are getting free Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles (MRAPs) from the Pentagon with what he says is not enough accountability:
"Before another small town's police force gets a $700,000 gift from the Defense Department that it can't maintain or manage, it behooves us to reign in the Pentagon's 1033 program and revisit the merits of a militarized America. I hope we can work together on this important issue."
This could become a bipartisan cause. Presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., wrote an op-ed for Time along the same lines:
"Not surprisingly, big government has been at the heart of the problem. Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies—where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement. ...
"Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention. Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences for non-violent mistakes in their youth.
"The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm. It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime. It is quite another for them to subsidize it.
"Americans must never sacrifice their liberty for an illusive and dangerous, or false, security. This has been a cause I have championed for years, and one that is at a near-crisis point in our country."