The Obama administration is forcing the city of Ferguson, Missouri, to return two military vehicles previously obtained from the Pentagon that were used this week against protesters in the St. Louis suburb. Although the Defense Department ordered Ferguson to return a pair of Humvees in June, similar military-style vehicles were deployed Sunday night, on the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man who was killed by a white police officer.
On Sunday, as protests against racial profiling and police brutality turned violent, an 18-year-old man allegedly opened fire on an unmarked police SUV before being shot and critically injured by police. St. Louis County declared a state of emergency Monday afternoon.
The Humvees were initially distributed as part of a national program to provide surplus military equipment and weapons to local police departments. Pentagon officials recalled the vehicles after discovering the city had been given twice as many vehicles in 2013 without proper federal authorization. "They have simply informed us they will be taking them back" Jeff Small, a spokesman for Ferguson, told the Guardian in an email.
— Ferguson Liveuamap (@fergusonlum) January 11, 2015
Ferguson has not been terminated or suspended from making applications to the program and officials stressed that the vehicles were not being removed from the city because of the civil unrest. "The Ferguson police department officially has two Humvees on their books; the state coordinators provided the police department two more Humvees without following the proper transfer protocol," Mark Wright, a spokesman for the Defense Department, said in a statement, the Guardian reported.
— Vernon Mitchell, Jr. (@vcmitchelljr) December 1, 2014
— GOVERNING (@GOVERNING) December 6, 2014
The city initially wanted to appeal against the decision to take back the vehicles, but it was rejected by the Pentagon, officials told the Guardian.
After a massive amount of military equipment was used by police across the nation during demonstrations following Brown's death, President Barack Obama ordered a governmentwide review of the policy, although there still remain many ways for police to acquire the military hardware. Many politicians also criticized the effectiveness of the program.
"Our Main Streets should be a place for business, families and relaxation, not tanks and M16s," U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said in a statement in August 2014 after the discovery that the program provided paramilitary gear to the Ferguson Police Department, the Associated Press reported. "Militarizing America's Main Streets won't make us any safer, just more fearful and more reticent."