Rand Paul Deserves Thanks for Focus on Police Militarization

download (3)I am definitely not generally a fan of Rand Paul, but I am thankful that he, virtually alone among conservatives, has not been swept away by the well organized and ghoulish police union PR campaign sparked by the senseless murder of two NYPD officers last weekend.

WASHINGTON — A version of the police militarization debate will be part of the Senate agenda next term.

Next year, [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] will reintroduce a bill that goes after the federal programs that send military-grade equipment to local police departments, staff for the Kentucky Republican told BuzzFeed News.

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Coburn’s bill — which is very similar to legislation Democratic [mc_name name=’Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’J000288′ ] of Georgia has vowed to reintroduce in the House next Congress — targets a small fraction of the millions of dollars worth of military surplus shipped by the Pentagon to local law enforcement each year under the Defense Department’s so-called 1033 program. Most of the surplus equipment is mundane — office furniture, uniforms, etc. But the most controversial 1033 shipments see vehicles and weapons used by the U.S. armed forces sent to local police. Coburn’s bill would ban that practice while keeping the non-lethal surplus flowing.

The murder of officers Ramos and Liu is absolutely to be lamented, and our hearts go out to their family and friends. But police unions have callously, transparently, and (let us be honest) deftly used their deaths to unjustifiably shift the national spotlight away from police practices and lack of accountability. More directly, they have shoehorned this incident into their already-ongoing national push to have their budget for military style equipment (in particular, body armor) increased.

The police and their defenders-at-all-costs have taken the sad story of Ramos and Liu and used it to brand as “anti-cop” anyone who points out that the basic facts on the ground haven’t changed. Facts, such as the fact that Ramos and Liu were the first NYPD officers killed by gunfire since 2011, or that civilians are between 10-15 times more likely to be killed by police than vice versa, that by far the most common killer of police is not violence of any kind from civilians, but rather that the same people who obsessively write tickets for failure to use seat belts are themselves terrible at wearing their seat belts and therefore are often killed in vehicle accidents.

Nor does their story address the central problem which is not even the use of police force per se, it is that excessive force, when used by police, is never punished. In the overwhelming majority of (comparatively rare) cases where a civilian kills a cop, the civilian is either killed himself in the process or shortly thereafter, or is indicted, tried and convicted in short order. Killing a cop virtually guarantees harsh treatment by the criminal justice system, where homicide of a police officer is the most potent sentence enhancer there is. And that’s all perfectly fine. The problem is that the shoe is not being placed on the other foot whatsoever. Of the 179 homicides committed by NYPD officers since 1999, only 3 resulted even in indictments, leading only to one conviction, for a non-jail-time offense. If your credulity leads you to believe that the scales of the criminal justice system are not unfairly stacked and that reform isn’t still needed notwithstanding the murders of Ramos and Liu, I have some oceanfront property in Arizona that may interest you.

And yet nonetheless our powerful (and well justified) belief in the good faith behavior of many or most cops, cynically manipulated by the police unions, has created a groundswell in the wake of these murders that seeks to shut down any and all examination of ongoing police practices, as virtually everyone on the right side of the spectrum rushes to change their twitter username to show solidarity with the police and to hashtag the most possible tweets with #bluelivesmatter. Kudos to Rand Paul for having the courage to recognize that anecdote is not the same as data, and that the high profile media coverage of one incident does not invalidate an entire and long overdue movement.