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(WASHINGTON) -- Since protests erupted over the death of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old African American man shot to death by a Caucasian police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, police clad in riot gear have unleashed tear gas and smoke bombs to try to control demonstrators.
The law enforcement response to the protest has been labeled overly combative, even militaristic – and lawmakers are now concerned that the situation is emblematic of a more pervasive problem.
Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich, Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., have officially called for Congressional hearings to examine “the extensive militarization of state and local police.”
In a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlate, R-Va., they noted: “Mr. Brown’s killing highlights what appears to be a continuing pattern of the use of deadly force by police against unarmed African Americans in cities around the nation.”
Hearings could address the “long-simmering racial tensions between an overwhelmingly white police force and a majority African-American population” in many areas, they wrote. “Why do local police dress in military-style uniforms and body armor…? At best, confronting demonstrators with this show of force is a sign of poor judgment.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Georgia., announced plans to introduce a bill restricting the transfer of surplus equipment from the military to police offices through a controversial Defense Department program. He reportedly calls the bill the “Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.”
Some lawmakers have even suggested that police in Ferguson resembled soldiers in war-torn regions abroad, rather than officers tasked with keeping peace.
“Instead of being respected as citizens of this nation who have the right to vocally oppose what they believe is mistreatment [protesters] were met with tear gas, rubber bullets, and police equipped as though they are militia in a war zone,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio. “What I saw last night reminded me of violent responses to uprisings in countries around the world, not here in my own backyard. We are supposed to be better than that.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., joined the chorus:
This is America, not a war zone. The people of #Ferguson just want answers. We all want answers.— Elizabeth Warren (@elizabethforma) August 14, 2014
Images & reports out of #Ferguson are frightening. Is this a war zone or a US city? Gov't escalates tensions w/military equipment & tactics.— Justin Amash (@repjustinamash) August 14, 2014
Democrats aren’t the only ones railing against perceived police brutality.
Tea Party favorite Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., penned an oped in Time Magazine decrying a “systemic problem with today’s law enforcement:”
Some lawmakers went further, drawing parallels between the police response to Ferguson protesters and law enforcement treatment of civil rights advocates.
“The tragic killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown and the events that have transpired since the shooting in Ferguson are reminiscent of the violent altercations that took place during the Civil Rights Movement. Countless African Americans endured unwarranted hostility and excessive force from law enforcement while exercising their right to peaceful assembly and civil resistance,” said Rep. Conyers, a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus. “It is a great travesty to find ourselves again witnessing the blatant violation of our right to peaceably assemble.”
Still others took to social media to voice their outrage.
You should not be forced to choke on tear gas to make your voice heard. #Ferguson— Rep. Steven Horsford (@RepHorsford) August 14, 2014
You should not have to withstand a shower of rubber bullets to assemble. #Ferguson— Rep. Steven Horsford (@RepHorsford) August 14, 2014
This situation must not spiral further into a national crisis. This began as a tragedy & we need to avoid any further escalation. #Ferguson— Rep. Steven Horsford (@RepHorsford) August 14, 2014
The citizens of #Ferguson deserve answers from police, not a military-style offensive.— Rep. John Yarmuth (@RepJohnYarmuth) August 14, 2014
Both the president and Michael Brown’s parents have pled for peace. Following a national outcry, state troopers have supplanted local police to try to calm the situation.
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