Michael Brown

Ferguson's Rep. Lacy Clay Voted Against Amendment to Limit Military Surplus Transfers to Local Cops, Just Two Months Ago


Rep. Lacy Clay

In June, the House of Representatives voted on a series of amendments to H.R. 4435, the National Defense Authorization Act.  Among the amendments was one by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) which would've prohibited funds from being used to transfer certain kinds of military surplus to local police departments. The amendment failed by a wide margin, with only 62 votes for and 355 against.

Among those voting against this bill, which would slow down the militarization of America's police forces, was Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), whose district includes Ferguson, Missouri, where many Americans have gotten their first glimpse of America's militarized police in action.

House leadership on both sides also voted against it, including Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)

Supporters of the amendment include the usual civil libertarian suspects, such as Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who called attention to this vote on Twitter earlier today, John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Walter Jones (R-NC), Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), John Lewis (D-Ga.), who nevertheless called for martial law in Ferguson, Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Mark Sanford (R-SC). Fourteen other Republicans and 43 other Democrats voted for the amendment.

There were a handful of members of Congress who didn't vote, including Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.)

See how your representative voted here.

Here is a transcript of Rep. Grayson's argument in favor of his amendment before the vote killed it:

Madam Chair, you may recall, yesterday, I gave an impassioned plea in favor of a different version of this amendment, which was ruled out of order. I am hoping for a better result tonight; but in any event, there is only so much passion in the world, so I will keep my remarks short.

I rise today to address a growing problem throughout our country, which is the militarization of local law enforcement agencies. The New York Times recently reported that police departments have received thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment and hundreds of silencers, armored cars, and aircraft directly from the Department of Defense. These are military weapons. I think this is appalling. That is why my amendment would prohibit the Department of Defense from gifting excess equipment, such as aircraft–including drones–armored vehicles, grenade launchers, silencers, and bombs to local police departments. Those weapons have no place in our streets, regardless of who may be deploying them. As The New York Times article "War Gear Flows to Police Departments" explains:

Police SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times each year, increasingly for routine jobs. Masked, heavily armed police officers in Louisiana raided a nightclub in 2006 as part of a liquor inspection. In Florida in 2010, officers in SWAT gear and with guns drawn carried out raids on barbershops that mostly led only to charges of "barbering without a license."

One South Carolina sheriff's department now takes a new tank that it received from the Department of Defense with a mounted .50-caliber gun to schools and community events. The department's spokesman calls that tank a "conversation starter." I don't think this is the way I want my America to be. I think we should help our police act like public servants, not like warriors at war.

I think we should facilitate a view of America where the streets are safe and they don't resemble a war zone, no matter who is deploying that equipment. We don't want America to look like an occupied territory. I hope for the support of my colleagues, and I reserve the balance of my time.