With protests turning violent across the country, lawmakers are scrutinizing the Defense Department initiative — curtailed by former President Barack Obama but revived by President Trump — that furnishes police departments with equipment such as bayonets and grenade launchers. The move comes after several nights when officers wearing riot gear have been documented using pepper spray and rubber bullets on protesters, bystanders and journalists, often without warning or seemingly unprovoked.
The push stands in stark contrast to the reaction of Mr. Trump, who has often encouraged rough tactics by law enforcement and spent Monday complaining privately to governors that they were not handling protesters aggressively enough.
“Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming presence until the violence is quelled,” Mr. Trump said in remarks from the Rose Garden on Monday evening. “If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”
On Capitol Hill, however, where Republicans often take their cues from the president, most lawmakers had a different message as they focused on the immediate catalyst for the protests: George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who was killed after a police officer knelt on his neck for a prolonged period.
“In no world whatsoever should arresting a man for an alleged minor infraction involve a police officer putting his knee on the man’s neck for nine minutes while he cries out ‘I can’t breathe’ and then goes silent,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said on Monday. “Our nation cannot deafen itself to the anger, the pain and the frustration of black Americans. Our nation needs to hear this.”
Top lawmakers in both parties and on both sides of the Capitol moved quickly last week to announce their intention to hold hearings on the use of excessive force by law enforcement and racial violence.
Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, who has long pressed to limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to police departments, announced that he would move to include an amendment in the must-pass annual defense policy bill to shut down the program entirely.
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