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Does Empowering the Military for Local Law Enforcement in Crisis Erode Civil Liberties?


While in search of the second Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, law enforcement locked down the City of Boston, raising eyebrows in some civil libertarian circles.

A few subtle changes made this Monday to a regulation in the U.S. Code titled "Defense Support of Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies" again has some criticizing the government for a growing trend to militarize local law enforcement.

The update gives federal military commanders the authority to engage in "activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected, civil disturbances" temporarily during "extraordinary emergency circumstances."

Civil liberties attorney and law professor Bruce Afran calls the rule, “a wanton power grab by the military,” and says, “It’s quite shocking actually because it violates the long-standing presumption that the military is under civilian control.”

Last March, before the Boston Marathon attack, the American Civil Liberties Union announced the launch of a nationwide investigation into the militarization of local law enforcement.

"Equipping state and local law enforcement with military weapons and vehicles, military tactical training, and actual military assistance to conduct traditional law enforcement erodes civil liberties and encourages increasingly aggressive policing, particularly in poor neighborhoods and communities of color," Kara Dansky, senior counsel for the ACLU's Center for Justice, said in a statement at the announcement.

"The militarization of local police is a threat to Americans' right to live without fear of military-style intervention in their daily lives, and we need to make sure these resources and tactics are deployed only with rigorous oversight and strong legal protections," Allie Bohm, ACLU advocacy and policy strategist, also said.

On "Real News" Friday the panel discussed the possible dangers in expanding the role and power of the military over domestic law enforcement. Watch a clip below below with guest Col. Morris Davis:

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