Email your Congressperson to get the Breathe Act introduced in Congress, which, in part, calls for the end of the 1033 Program.
Check to see what your local agency received from the Department of Defense. Note: This data is from 2014, but I found it to be interesting nonetheless.
If you’ve participated or watched protests unfold in cities across the country this past year, you may have noticed that law enforcement looked more like members of our military than neighborhood police. And that’s intentional, as, over the past decades, the U.S. has made it easier for law enforcement to access surplus military equipment for everyday use.
Law enforcement can gain access to military equipment in a few ways: they can buy it outright or apply for grants (The Marshall Project). But a more straightforward way is to request supplies directly from the military through a program called the 1033 Program. Through this, recipients can receive the equipment at no cost, minus the shipping/transportation fees, making it an easy way to snag high-budget items. Some of the qualifying equipment is harmless, like exercise equipment and musical instruments (The Marshall Project).
But it also includes high-grade weapons, machinery, and vehicles designed for combat, not community safety. Equipment has been granted to sheriffs, parks and recreation agencies, and even schools: as of 2014, at least 17 school districts have been given hundreds of weapons, including rifles, shotguns, and grenade launchers (The Marshall Project). It’s also been distributed to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, subjecting the southern border and its community to unnecessary, excessive police militarization.
Since its start in the 90s, over $7.4 billion worth of property has been transferred through the 1033 Program (Visual Capitalist). And according to the Institute for Transparent Policing, one in three local law enforcement agencies currently have military gear through the 1033 Program, ranging from machine guns to armored vehicles to robots (ITP).
Law enforcement often uses this equipment against its civilians during protests and demonstrations. In 2015, the militarized response to the protests of the death of Michael Brown brought this to the forefront: protestors were attacked with sniper rifles, armored vehicles, and tear gas used by law enforcement (ACLU). In 2015, President Obama signed an executive order restricting the militarization of police. But this was rescinded by the Trump administration in 2017 (EJI). Former President Trump publicly approved the use of military-grade weapons by law enforcement, encouraging them “don’t be too nice” to “these thugs.” Since then, over half a billion dollars of surplus military equipment has been obtained by local law enforcement (USA Today).
The protests from last summer only underlined how fatal militarized responses can be for our community (Axios). And just this past month, military-grade equipment was present at protests around Minnesota, both due to the death of Daunte Wright and the close of the Derek Chauvin trial (Vice). All of this is separate from *actual* military presence in cities across the country. Interested in learning more? Listen to this NPR Fresh Air podcast episode with Radley Balko, author of Rise Of The Warrior Cop.
Studies prove that this excessive use of weaponry doesn’t keep cops safe, nor do they deter violence (Nature). In fact, it makes law enforcement more dangerous. Another study found that, when equipped with military equipment, law enforcement would adopt more militaristic habits, like “using military language, creating elite units like SWAT teams, and becoming more likely to jump into high-risk situations” (Washington Post). Civilians are most likely at risk: the increased militarization of a law enforcement agency directly correlates with more civilians killed each year by police. In addition, civilians are more likely to be harmed during situations where military-grade equipment is utilized (NBC News).
Militarization makes every problem — even a car of teenagers driving away from a party — look like a nail that should be hit with an AR-15 hammer.
Right now, the Black Lives Matter Global Network is calling for the Biden administration to end 1033 during its first 100 days in office (which ends today, April 30). But action needs to be taken, regardless of whether it’s today or tomorrow. The militarization of law enforcement and other state agencies only reinforces the military-industrial complex and makes policing more harmful to our communities.
Through the 1033 Program, law enforcement agencies can receive surplus military-grade equipment from the military for their everyday use
The 1033 Program has distributed $7.4 billion worth of military weapons to police forces around the country
Police militarization is proven to increase civilian fatalities and does not increase the effectiveness of law enforcement