Obama Orders Review Of Military Equipment Sales To Police

In the wake of violent clashes between protesters and police in Ferguson, Mo., President Obama is ordering a review of the federal programs that help local police departments purchase military gear.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. President Obama has ordered a review of the federal programs that help local police departments purchase military equipment. The review comes in the wake of violent clashes in Ferguson, Missouri, clashes between protesters and police in riot gear and armored vehicles. Protests continued last night over the shooting of an unarmed, black 18-year-old man by a white police officer.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

CROWD: No justice, no peace. No justice, no peace

WERTHEIMER: Those protests were peaceful and numbers were relatively small. NPR's David Schaper is in Ferguson, and he joins us now with the latest. David, good morning.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Good morning.

WERTHEIMER: Now the images of the police in Ferguson firing robber bullets and tear gas canisters at crowds of protesters horrified a lot of people because of the use of military equipment and tactics. Now, the president is ordering a review of the programs that enable state and local law enforcement agencies to buy that equipment. What is the White House reviewing exactly?

SCHAPER: Well, according to administration officials, the president wants staff from the National Security Council, the Defense Department, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies to review whether providing cities, counties and states, whether they're big or small, grant funding or other assistance so that they can purchase these things like body armor and armored vehicles, automatic weapons even - these are equipment that are usually used at war. And the White House review is looking at whether or not it's really appropriate to use in policing our communities. Mr. Obama was asked about this kind of use of force by state and local police in Ferguson last week. And the president acknowledged there are legitimate concerns.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement. And we don't want those lines blurred. That would be contrary to our traditions.

WERTHEIMER: It was another night of protest, but peaceful protest in Ferguson last night. What is the mood there now, David? Are things returning to normal?

SCHAPER: I wouldn't say it's quite normal yet. But things are definitely settling down. The marches are smaller at night. There is only about 15 people marching up in that group we heard at the top of the story here. And there are scores of other people who are out, maybe 200, 300 in all. But they're just sitting on lawn chairs. They're sitting around chatting with friends. They're maybe sitting on top of their cars and just watching what was going on and looking to see if something might happen.

So it does appear that the outrage and frustration is dying down. But beneath the surface, there is still a lot of tension here. The people tell me that if there are no charges filed against the police officer, Darren Wilson, who shot and killed 18-year-old Mike Brown, the city could explode again and even worse than before.

WERTHEIMER: Speaking of Officer Wilson, I understand there was a rally and a fundraiser in his support yesterday.

SCHAPER: Yeah. In South St. Louis, there were many police officers, current and retired, as well as family members and friends his. Darla Rieger is the mother of a police officer in St. Francis County. And she says this rush to judgment about Officer Wilson's actions are off the mark.

DARLA RIEGER: I don't think they're acknowledging the fact that he did his job. He did what he's paid to do. You wouldn't want to be persecuted for doing - in trouble for something you were paid to do. This is your job. He didn't want to do it.

WERTHEIMER: David, I understand the funeral for 18-year-old Michael Brown will be held tomorrow. And the White House is sending a delegation?

SCHAPER: Yeah. Present Obama says he is sending three White House officials to the funeral service for Michael Brown. This funeral on Monday is expected to be quite large. They've moved it to about the biggest church in the St. Louis area to accommodate all of those who will be attending. And it could be quite an emotional scene on Monday.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's David Schaper speaking to us from Ferguson, Missouri. David, thank you.

>>SCHAPER Thank you, Linda.

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