The city council of Davis, California has decided to drop the local police department’s Pentagon-supplied armored vehicle following worries from the community that it could be used against demonstrations, as was the case in Ferguson, Missouri this month.
The Davis City Council adopted a resolution this week that orders the city to come up with a plan to drop the MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected), originally developed for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and acquired by the city through a government surplus program. The armored vehicles have been distributed to local law enforcement agencies, especially after the wars wound down and the Pentagon’s budget was reduced.
A large crowd largely opposed to the city’s MRAP gathered at the city council meeting for the resolution vote. A petition had circulated around town calling for Davis officials to get rid of or repurpose the MRAP.
“I would like to say I do not suggest you take this vehicle and send it out of Davis, I demand it. I demand it!” announced a man attending the meeting wearing a “Tank The Tank” t-shirt, according to the local CBS affiliate.
Many in Davis are concerned that the military vehicle could be used against political demonstrations or protests, as was the case in Ferguson, Missouri earlier this month when local law enforcement responded to civil unrest over the police killing of an unarmed teenager with what many saw as a heavy-handed, militarized posture.
Davis Police Chief Landry Black made the case for keeping the MRAP, saying the police department had confiscated much high-power weaponry in the last year. He said there were specific guidelines for its use, and that it is a necessary piece of safety equipment for the city.
“We enjoy a certain quality of life but none the less the real world intrudes upon us from time to time,” Black said.
One way the US government distributes military-grade weaponry to local police departments is through the US Department of Defense’s 1033 program, in which the Pentagon offers hundreds of millions of dollars of surplus military equipment to police forces throughout the US. For instance, St. Louis County, which encompasses Ferguson, is part of the program, as RT has reported.
In response to national outrage over the utilization of military weaponry by police in Ferguson - which is emblematic of police forces across the nation - some in Congress have mulled stemming the flow of Pentagon excess to towns across America. Yet powerful police lobbies are mobilizing to beat back any anti-militarization sentiment resulting from scenes and accounts in Ferguson.
Meanwhile, close to 200 state and local police departments in the US have lost military-level equipment transferred to them by the Pentagon’s 1033 program, according to a recent independent investigation.
Davis is home to the University of California-Davis, with around 32,000 students. The city’s progressive politics are shaped by the university.
UC-Davis was the site of one of the more shocking moments of the Occupy protests. In November 2011, a university police officer, Lt. John Pike, wantonly pepper-sprayed several peaceful demonstrators on campus, creating a national uproar while becoming a symbol of police aggression in the face of national Occupy protests.