Rep. Hank Johnson plans to introduce legislation that would “end the free transfers” of military equipment to local law enforcement agencies, in the wake to the use of heightened police force in a St. Louis suburb rocked by the shooting death of an unarmed teen.
The Georgia Democrat sent a letter Thursday morning alerting lawmakers that he planned to put forth the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, Politico reported.
“Our main streets should be a place for business, families, and relaxation, not tanks and M16s,” Mr. Johnson wrote. “Unfortunately, due to a Department of Defense (DOD) Program that transfers surplus DOD equipment to state and local law enforcement, our local police are quickly beginning to resemble paramilitary forces.”
Mr. Johnson has been working on the bill for months, penning an op-ed on the subject in March, but the plan to disarm police forces seems especially relevant after reports and video showed tear gas and rubber bullets being fired at protesters in the streets of Ferguson. Tensions remain high as residents in the predominantly black neighborhood question why a police officer shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was unarmed.
“The congressman feels like what’s happening in Ferguson is relevant to the bill and it highlights the need for the bill, but we’re not all of a sudden filing this because of what’s happening in Ferguson,” a Johnson spokesman told The Washington Times on Thursday.
Two journalists with The Washington Post and Huffington Post were arrested amid the clashes, calling their treatment unjustified and illegal, and said the militarization of local police is starting to clamp press freedoms.
Mr. Johnson said his legislation would “end the free transfers of certain aggressive military equipment to local law enforcement and ensure that all equipment can be accounted for,” Politico reported.
His legislation focuses on a Department of Defense surplus program that has allowed local agencies to acquire military castoffs at a discount, or even for free.
The Friends Committee on National Legislation and the American Civil Liberties Union have endorsed Mr. Johnson’s legislation, Politico reported.
• Jacqueline Klimas contributed to this report.