July 13, 2020; WBUR, “Bostonmix”
Police Lieutenant Willie Williams of Philadelphia, president of the National Black Police Association’s Region 3 chapter, has concerns about police access to military vehicles. Speaking to Boston’s NPR affiliate WBUR last week, Williams confided, “It can escalate a situation because people, especially the communities of color, feel like we’re being besieged upon all the time, anyway.”
“You know, ‘Why us?’ is the mentality,” he said.
Lenco Armored Vehicles’ Bearcat G3 has been seen as a representative puzzle piece in the larger image of police militarization, systemic racism, and national reckoning the United States is experiencing. These vehicles gained notoriety for their use in the capture of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, yet they have been utilized more recently in the nationwide protests in reaction to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others through police violence. Bearcat deployments have often been tied to the more than 100 attacks on protesters during the current movement, such as the Philadelphia police department’s kettling of activists with tear gas on I-676 in early June.
Five years ago, President Obama responded with open dismay to the militarized police response to protesters on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri reacting to the death of Michael Brown. “We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force, as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them,” the president said. “It can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message. So, we’re going to prohibit some equipment made for the battlefield that is not appropriate for local police departments.”
On January 16, 2015, Obama issued Executive Order 13688, “Federal Support for Local Law Enforcement Acquisition,” which established the Law Enforcement Equipment Working Group (LEEWG) to review the flow of all federal government programs providing materials to law enforcement. The working group focused on policies, tactics, and protocols, of federal equipment entering police departments. They recommended prohibiting items such as track armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft, .50-caliber firearms or ammunition, bayonets, grenade launchers and camouflage uniforms. These equipment advances stemmed from a decades-long “1033 Program” tied to the Clinton administration’s National Defense Authorization Acts of 1990–91, which funneled excess Department of Defense property through the Defense Logistics Agency to police departments through grant programs, where often the cost of shipping was the only barrier.