Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants you to believe that the Obama administration made it impossible for police departments to obtain federal surplus military gear —and that Donald Trump, by signing an executive order that reverses that policy, is triumphantly turning the faucet back on, according to a Slate analysis. But the Obama policy in no way prohibited law enforcement agencies from obtaining most surplus items. It merely asked them to provide assurances that the gear would be used safely and appropriately. “The prohibited list is a tiny list of equipment that, honestly, when we talked to law enforcement agencies no one could reasonably defend the use of that equipment. Truly no one,” said Roy L. Austin, who served on Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
The Obama policy went into effect in 2015 after demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., provoked local authorities to send terrifying military vehicles and police officers dressed in riot gear to confront Black Lives Matter protesters. Obama’s executive order set forth two categories of military equipment: “prohibited equipment” and “controlled equipment.” The first category, which law enforcement agencies could no longer procure, included such weapons of war as bayonets, grenade launchers and tank-like armored vehicles. The second category was broader, and included items like riot helmets, battering rams, Humvees, drones, and helicopters.