Tell Congress: no military weapons for police

11 mins read

By Ann G. Daniels and Linh Nguyen

Deadline: July 1 –

Have you seen that dystopian series where teachers beg for money because taxes don’t pay enough for books, but the government buys all these extra weapons and gives IED-resistant tanks and grenade launchers and automatic rifles to school police … oh wait, sorry, that’s not Netflix, that’s Los Angeles. Plot twist: they returned the grenade launchers but kept the tanks. And the guns. 

Under the 1033 Program of the National Defense Authorization Act, the Secretary of Defense can give “excess” Department of Defense supplies and equipment to state and local law enforcement on all levels, with no public record and no accountability – which has militarized police departments nationwide. Now, H.R. 1714, the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, would prohibit the transfer of certain kinds of military equipment, get rid of incentives to use military equipment in inappropriate ways, require law enforcement to disclose what equipment they are seeking and why, and more. H.R. 1714 is part of the Justice in Policing Act, legislation intended to reform certain police practices, and it’s supported by a wide range of criminal justice, human rights, faith-based, and government accountability groups

Indivisible East Bay would prefer the 1033 Program to be repealed entirely; we believe the government shouldn’t give military weapons to the police, period. More basic, we believe the National Defense Authorization Act and the defense budget need a severe overhaul – it’s a travesty the government has “excess” weaponry while people go without healthcare, housing, and food. However, we believe that we need to get military weaponry out of police forces’ hands right now, and H.R. 1714, while not perfect, is the best way to do that. So we support it – BUT we want to see it as an amendment to the NDAA, which Congress must pass this year (likely in July), rather than as part of the Justice in Policing Act.

What you can do:

Ask your Member of Congress to offer an amendment to the NDAA to include H.R. 1714, and to fight to repeal the 1033 Program , and to fight for a major overhaul of defense spending so we no longer have “excess” weaponry.

What to say:

My name is ___, my zip code is ___, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. The federal government shouldn’t give police forces military weapons under the 1033 Program of the NDAA. Please offer an amendment to include H.R. 1714, the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, in the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. We need these restrictions now. Please also fight to repeal and defund the 1033 Program, and to overhaul defense spending. It’s obscene to spend so much on defense that we have excess military weapons to give to police.

If Rep. Barbara Lee is your representative, please add:

I want to thank Rep. Lee for fighting to overhaul the defense budget. We shouldn’t be supporting Trump’s warmongering while people’s essential needs go unmet. Please keep fighting against defense spending increases!

  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (email): (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee (email): (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
  •  Rep. Eric Swalwell (email): (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065
  •  Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  •  Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 981-9369 • DC: (202) 224-3553

More information:

What happens when “peace officers” get military gear from the folks who send our armed forces into war? Newsweek summarizes it: “By providing law enforcement agencies with surplus military equipment free of charge, the NDAA encourages police to employ military weapons and military tactics.” Why is there so much money in the defense budget that there are “surplus” grenade launchers for LA Unified or tiny towns in Georgia, landmine-resistant armored vehicles for police in Connecticut, or troop carriers for small towns in Michigan and Indiana? Why is this allowed to begin with? 

It began in 1990, when Congress enacted a section of the NDAA allowing the DOD to give excess “property” – including “small arms and ammunition” – for use in the drug wars. In 1997, counter-terrorism was added to the brief. There is no shopping list of material available, and the Congressional Research Service coyly mentions “general law enforcement supplies (e.g., handcuffs, riot shields, holsters, binoculars, and digital cameras)” as well as bland categories like office furniture and household goods – but equipment actually transferred has included armored vehicles worth nearly three-quarters of a million dollars each, grenade launchers, and other items not commonly found at Staples. In 2015, President Obama prohibited the police from using certain types of military equipment. In 2017, Trump reversed those restrictions. IEB has been lobbying our Senators ever since to amend the NDAA with the previous version of H.R. 1714, to prohibit or limit transfer of military weaponry to the police; you can read our memos to Senator Feinstein herehere, and here, and our memo to Senator Harris here. But here we are: the public seems to have paid for over $7 billion worth of “excess” military equipment in the hands of the police. But with no obligation for public accounting, it’s hard to know for sure.

It’s an indictment of our society that we allocate so much money to the defense budget that we have “excess” weapons around for the asking, and the most basic change should be redesigning the budget so that this cannot be the case. We’d love to see schools get decent funding for education instead of getting heavily armored police (or indeed any police – kudos to the Oakland School Board for voting unanimously to dismantle its police department before the start of the 2020-21 school year). We’re proud that the East Bay’s Rep. Barbara Lee has been leading the charge in the fight for exactly such a budget re-prioritization, demanding an end to Trump’s warmongering while people’s essential needs go unmet, especially during the pandemic. We support her H.Res. 1003, “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding wasteful Pentagon spending and supporting cuts to the bloated defense budget.” But we also acknowledge that this isn’t going to create the kind of change needed to get military weapons out of the police’s hands right now. The next best thing to overhauling defense spending: repeal authorization for the 1033 Program, so that at least “excess” weapons wouldn’t go to the police. We’d love to see all our MoCs fight for this – but again, that’s a longer-range goal.

So, why focus on H.R. 1714 and the NDAA? H.R. 1714 has problems, chief among them that it still allows police forces to get military weaponry and it doesn’t include mandatory national disclosure. But it is a major improvement on the current situation. Normally, that might or might not be enough. But H.R. 1714 is currently part of the Justice in Policing Act, “standalone legislation” that Congress doesn’t have to pass right now. And they’re not going to: Senate Republicans are refusing to debate the Justice in Policing Act, and tried to offer a meaningless sham “reform” bill. That isn’t nearly good enough. This matter is urgent, and must pass ASAP. 

This is where the NDAA comes in. Unlike the Justice in Policing Act, the NDAA is “must-pass legislation” – it must be passed by both houses and signed by the Current Occupant in order for the Pentagon to be funded past Sept. 30. An NDAA has been passed by both Houses of Congress, and signed by presidents, for 58 consecutive years. It’s going to be passed this year. Getting H.R. 1714 into the NDAA is the way to get Congress to pass a law prohibiting or restricting the DOD from giving military weaponry to the police, now. And this can be done: Legislators in both the House and Senate can offer the text of H.R. 1714 as an amendment, on the chamber floor, before the vote.

Photo: Lakeland SWAT, by Tom Hagerty 

Ann G. Daniels’ checkered professional background includes practicing law, reproductive rights advocacy, creating web content for nonprofits and educational organizations, and teaching adult and family literacy. She also designs jewelry, teaches knitting, and sings second soprano.

Linh Nguyen is one of IEB’s congressional procedure pedants.

DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.

Indivisible East Bay is a chapter of the Indivisible movement. We are a grassroots organization focused on stopping the Trump administration’s policies.

We cover the East Bay Area, spanning California’s 11th, 13th, and 15th congressional districts. In addition to IndivisibleEB, there are a number of other Indivisible groups covering specifics cities, countries, and even neighborhood. Whenever possible, we try to work together in order to build a coalition of like-minded activists resisting the Trump agenda.

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