Progressive Lawmakers Push Biden to Stop Transferring Military Weapons to Cops

Heavily armed and camouflaged police officers stand by an armored vehicle on November 4, 2016 in Wilmington, Ohio, population 12,660. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Progressive Lawmakers Push Biden to Stop Transferring Military Weapons to Cops

"Militarized law enforcement increases the prevalence of police violence without making our communities safer," 22 members of Congress asserted.

Congressional progressives this week urged top Biden administration officials to end the transfer of military weapons to local law enforcement agencies under a program that critics say disproportionately harms communities of color.

"It's time we demilitarize the police and abolish the 1033 program."

In a letter led by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), the 22 lawmakers called on Cabinet members to implement part of a May executive order signed by President Joe Biden aimed at reforming federal policing standards.

"Police militarization has never made our communities safer," Pressley tweeted. "It's time to stop transferring military-grade weapons to local police."

A provision of Executive Order 14704 requires administration agency heads to review military weapons transfers to law enforcement agencies, with an eye toward prohibiting such transfers when possible.

"Militarized law enforcement increases the prevalence of police violence without making our communities safer," the lawmakers wrote in the letter.

"For example, many types of equipment transferred under the Department of Defense's 1033 program have contributed to increasingly militarized law enforcement, which has in turn led to more prevalent police violence," the signers wrote, a reference the program facilitating the transfer of military equipment to federal, state, local, and tribal police.

According to the Policing Project at the New York University School of Law, "since its inception in 1990, the 1033 program has transferred more than $7.5 billion worth of surplus military equipment to subnational policing agencies," over 11,000 of which have registered for the program.

Noting the disproportionate impact of police militarization on communities of color, the letter asserts that "when law enforcement has access to military equipment, they are more likely to use it."

"The property listed in E.O. 14074 includes firearms and ammunition of .50 or greater caliber, firearm silencers, bayonets, grenades and grenade launchers, certain explosives, tracked and armored vehicles, weaponized drones and combat aircraft, and certain long-range acoustic devices," equipment that the lawmakers assert "should be prohibited from being transferred to or purchased by law enforcement agencies either with federal funds or from federal agencies or contractors," the letter states.

Widespread public concern about the 1033 program surfaced after the 2014 police killing of unarmed Black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the subsequent militarized police response to protests led by the nascent Black Lives Matter movement.

In 2015 then-President Barack Obama signed an executive order banning the transfer of tracked armored vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers, and large-caliber weapons and ammunition. Agencies with such weapons in their arsenals were required to return them. The Pentagon said agencies returned 126 tracked armored vehicles, 138 grenade launchers, and 1,623 bayonets in response to the order.

The 1033 program was in the news again during and after the 2020 racial justice protests following more police killings of Black people, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade.

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In the wake of the 2020 protests, Pressley introduced amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have ended the 1033 program. She re-introduced the failed measures earlier this year.

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