The Defense Department must stop arming local police
Ferguson, Missouri looked like a war zone this summer as police in combat gear and mine resistant vehicles violently confronted thousands of civilians for protesting the killing of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown by a local police officer.
The killing of Michael Brown was not an isolated incident. And the longstanding and unacceptable pattern of African-American and Latino men being racially profiled and killed by law enforcement has been exacerbated in recent years by the militarization of local law enforcement agencies nationwide.
Police militarization has been fueled by the Department of Defense, which has provided billions of dollars worth of tanks, grenade launchers and other weapons to local law enforcement agencies -- including more than 93,000 machine guns.1 Secretary of Defense Hagel has the authority to suspend the program at any time,2 but he's not going to do it unless we demand it.
Tell Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel: Stop providing military equipment to local police departments.
Under the Defense Department's 1033 program -- which was implemented in the 1990s under the guise of fighting the war on drugs -- the Defense Department has distributed an astonishing array of equipment to state and local agencies, from machine guns, grenade launchers and bazookas to armored personnel carriers, tanks and helicopters.3
Some of that equipment has ended up in extremely dangerous hands. Maricopa County Arizona, home of radical anti-immigrant Sheriff Joe Arpaio, has received a tank with a belt-fed, 360-degree rotating machine gun turret through the program.4
But even in relatively responsible hands, the 1033 program makes Americans less safe. As the ACLU explained in a recent report, providing military style equipment to local agencies encourages law enforcement officials to adopt a “warrior” mentality and view Americans as enemies, rather than viewing them as the people they are supposed to protect and serve.5
Tell Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel: Local police departments don’t need military-style weapons. Suspend the 1033 program now.
American neighborhoods are not combat zones, and law enforcement officials shouldn’t be using the weaponry or tactics of armed combat to fight crime. But by providing local law enforcement officials with military-style equipment, the Department of Defense is fueling a dangerous trend that puts the civil liberties and livelihoods of Americans, especially African-Americans and Latinos, at risk.
The hyper-militarized and clearly disproportionate police response to largely peaceful protests in Ferguson this summer brought police militarization into the national spotlight, giving us a rare window of opportunity in which reform is possible.
1. "War Gear Flows to Police Departments," New York Times, June 8, 2014.
2. "Pentagon: Hagel has authority to suspend program that arms cops," The Hill, August 19, 2014.
3. "Mapping the spread of the Pentagon's surplus gear," New York Times, August 19, 2014.
4. "Pentagon Suspends Program That Gives Military Weapons To Cops," Huffington Post, June 11, 2012.
5. "War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing," American Civil Liberties Union