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House Dems’ new bill would ban or restrict military equipment going to local police

Red River Valley SWAT Team demonstration. (City of West Fargo, ND/Released)
March 09, 2021

Dozens of Democrat lawmakers reintroduced legislation Tuesday to limit or ban military-grade equipment to local law enforcement departments under the Department of Defense’s 1033 Program.  

Sponsored by Rep. Hank Johnson, the bill “goes after the items that destroy trust and endanger communities while allowing support equipment transfers to continue,” according to a summary provided to The Hill.

The proposed bill is co-sponsored by 73 additional House Democrats and one Republican — Rep. Tom McClintock from California.

“Today, I re-introduced the bipartisan Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act (SMLEA) to rein in DOD transfers of excess military weapons to local law enforcement,” Johnson tweeted on Tuesday. “Too often our communities are policed w/ a warrior mentality not protect & serve.”

The 1033 program allows the Pentagon to give extra military equipment to local police departments across the United States, an issue that received renewed attention last year in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in custody of the Minneapolis Police Department.

“Our neighborhoods need to be protected, but Americans and our founding fathers opposed blurring the line between police and the military,” Johnson said in a statement Tuesday. “What has been made perfectly clear – especially in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder – is that Black and Brown communities are policed one way – with a warrior mentality – and white and more affluent communities are policed another way. Before another town is transformed into a warzone with gifts of grenade launchers and high-caliber rifles, we must rein in this program and revisit our view of the  safety of American cities and towns.”

According to Johnson’s statement, the bill will “prevent transfers of equipment inappropriate for local policing, such as military weapons, long-range acoustic devices, grenade launchers, weaponized drones, armored military vehicles, and grenades or similar explosives.”

Former President Obama also took issue with the program, restricting it in 2015 following demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., that were suppressed using military-grade equipment. Former President Donald Trump removed the restrictions in 2017.

According to The Hill, President Joe Biden will likely sign an executive order reinstating the program’s limits.

The legislation builds on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which was passed in the House last week but still needs the required 60 votes in the Senate – a chamber that is split 50-50 – before becoming law.

“Demilitarizing the police is a crucial step towards the broader goals of ending institutional racism and stopping police brutality,” said Yasmine Taeb, a Human rights lawyer and progressive activist. “Militarized policing supported by weapons of war has terrorized our communities, and in particular, our communities of color. The militarization of domestic law enforcement perpetuates institutionalized racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia, and contributes to the maintenance of a society where the lives of Black and Brown people don’t matter. It is past time for Congress to pass the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act and end the transfer of military weaponry under the 1033 Program.”