The image of heavily armed police confronting demonstrators in Ferguson, Mo., has sparked a national debate about militarized law enforcement.
Kentucky lawmakers, such as a Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth, were among the first to condemn police in the northern St. Louis suburb for using “military-style” tactics against residents.
“The citizens of Ferguson deserve answers from police, not a military-style offensive,” Yarmuth said told WFPL in a statement last Thursday. “The police tactics against protestors are appalling and antithetical to American values, whatever the investigation of Michael Brown’s killing ultimately reveals.”
On June 19, however, Yarmuth voted against an amendment to block giving local police military gear and weapons, including nuclear arms.
Fellow Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida introduced the proposal, which took aim at the defense department’s 1033 program. The 1033 program permits the U.S. defense secretary to provide, without charge, excess military property to state and local police agencies.
The proposal failed by a 62-355 vote.
Since its inception almost two decades ago, the program has sent over $5.1 billion in property to law enforcement to combat drugs and terrorism.
Grayson’s amendment to the defense appropriations bill would have prohibited the “use of funds to transfer aircraft (including unmanned aerial vehicles), armored vehicles, grenade launchers, silencers, toxicological agents, launch vehicles, guided missiles, ballistic missiles, rockets, torpedoes, bombs, mines, or nuclear weapons.”
Yarmuth was unavailable for an interview with WFPL. In a released statement Monday, he said he objected to the amendment because it specified which military equipment would not go to police.
“In the wake of local police’s overwhelming use of military-style force against protestors in Ferguson, I believe Congress should review the 1033 program—both the kinds of equipment being transferred and the criteria for using it,” he said.
“Law enforcement should be equipped to respond to criminals’ evolving weaponry, but protesting isn’t a criminal act, and it’s difficult to see how police operating as soldiers reduces confrontation, especially given what has happened in Ferguson.”
All other members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation voted against the Grayson amendment except for freshman Republican Rep. Thomas Massie, according to House clerk records . He joined 18 members of his party who supported the idea.