No more police departments that look like an 'occupying army' — Dems ask Biden to demilitarize the police

No more police departments that look like an ‘occupying army’ — Dems ask Biden to demilitarize the police

Police officers in riot gear standing in a line

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By Kenny Stancil

Backed by more than 50 progressive groups, dozens of House Democrats are urging President Joe Biden to issue an executive order to prevent the transfer of military-grade weaponry from the Department of Defense to federal, tribal, state, and local police forces.

In a letter (pdf) sent to the White House on Tuesday afternoon, 29 lawmakers, led by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), argue that taking executive action to reform the Pentagon’s 1033 program “is a reasonable step towards demilitarizing our police forces while preserving the safety of our communities.”

“Decades of militarization of our nation’s law enforcement have led to some police departments looking more like an occupying army than a community-based regulatory arm of state and local government,” the lawmakers wrote.

Stephen Semler, cofounder of the Security Policy Reform Institute, highlighted the scale of the “military-to-police pipeline” in a Jacobin article published Tuesday: “Nearly $34 million in military equipment was sent to police in the first quarter of this year, according to the Pentagon’s latest figures on the 1033 program. Since its inception in 1997, the program has been a conduit for at least $1.8 billion in combat gear shipments from the Department of Defense to U.S. law enforcement agencies.”

“Not surprisingly,” Semler added, “arming police to the teeth makes them more violent. Law enforcement agencies that get combat gear through the 1033 program tend to shoot and kill more people than ones that don’t.”

In their letter to Biden, the House Democrats noted that “the inappropriate use of such weapons is incentivized by a perverse requirement that to keep the equipment transferred under the 1033 program, the receiving agency must utilize it within one year or it must be returned to DOD.”

Referring to the crackdown on nationwide protests against police violence that erupted last year in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, the members of Congress wrote that “law enforcement’s response to the civil rights demonstrations last summer show irrefutable proof of our police forces’ increasing aggression and brutality—images of local police in military vehicles, with military-grade weaponry trained on citizens exercising their constitutional right to peacefully protest.”

“Our neighborhoods need to be protected, including from dangers posed by the militarization of police,” they added. “This reasonable step falls squarely within your executive authority.”

According to Semler:

Permanently abolishing this militarization pipeline requires an act of Congress. Specifically, legislation that strikes the authorizing statute for the program (10 U.S. Code § 2576a) would have to pass both chambers. But nothing is stopping President Biden from effectively shutting down the program right away. He could issue an executive order that not only halts 1033 transfers but also forces police to return past shipments, including the 335 helicopters, 1126 “MRAP” armored vehicles, 2,921 Humvees, and nearly 60,000 assault rifles currently loaned out by the Pentagon.

Biden was vice president the last time an executive order recalled military equipment obtained through the 1033 program from law enforcement agencies. By the time it was revoked by Trump, 126 tracked armored vehicles and 138 grenade launchers had been sent back from police to the Pentagon under Obama’s Executive Order 13688.

Emphasizing that Obama’s actions “stopped short of full reform,” the Democrats’ letter asks Biden to issue an executive order using the “same language” found in the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, a bill that Johnson introduced last month in the House.

While the legislation’s provisions to ban the flow of certain military equipment to law enforcment agencies have already passed the House as part of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, they now face an uphill battle in the Senate, which is why progressives are calling on Biden to incorporate the 1033-related changes into an executive order that can be invoked immediately.

Jodie Evans, cofounder of CodePink, a peace group that signed the letter, said in a statement that “curtailing the 1033 program is an important first step.”

But achieving racial justice, she said, requires “eliminating the 1033 program altogether” to protect the working-class communities of color that “bear the brunt of police brutality in this country.”

Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), one of the letter’s signatories, “plans to introduce a bill next week that would completely repeal the 1033 program,” according to The Hill, which obtained a draft of the legislation.

The 1033 program “is just one example of the many ways that our bloated Pentagon budget does nothing to create real safety and security in our society,” said Carley Towne, co-director of CodePink and coordinator of its Defund the Pentagon campaign.

“It is absurd that the Pentagon has so much funding they can send their ‘excess’ weaponry to police departments around the country,” she added. “We need to demilitarize our police and defund the Pentagon now.”

This article is republished from Common Dreams under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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