Why is police militarization prominent in the U.S.?
Keywords to keep in mind: The 1033 program: Part of 1997's National Defense Authorization Act, the 1033 program allows the Department of Defense to get rid of excess military equipment by passing it off to local authorities, who only have to pay for the cost of shipping.
Civil forfeiture: Civil forfeiture allows police to seize – and then keep or sell – any property they allege is involved in a crime. Owners need not ever be arrested or convicted of a crime for their cash, cars, or even real estate to be taken away permanently by the government.
Since the 1990s, the federal government's 1033 program has provided more than $7.4 billion worth of surplus military equipment to state and local agencies. This includes, battering rams, rifles, grenade launchers, armored vehicles, and drones. The militarization of policing in the US has occurred with almost no public oversight.
On the local level, municipalities and states can demilitarize by implementing measures that ensure community members have influence on police budget decisions. The Community Control Over Police Surveillance (CCOPS) effort is an example of this kind of approach, which the ACLU and 17 other national organizations launched in 2016.
And on the federal level, Congress can work to pass and sign into law legislation that ends federal-level funding programs of military weapons including ending the 1033 program, redirecting Byrne JAG grants to other public safety activities, and restricting civil forfeiture.
The tension between African American communities and the police has existed for centuries. A truth many Americans are acknowledging since the murder of George Floyd, as protests have occurred in all fifty states calling for justice on his behalf. NPR looks into the origins of American policing and how those origins put violent control of Black Americans at the heart of the system.
PDF: Police union contracts and the Police Bill of Rights analysis report
“We wanted to understand how the relationship between police and the Black community had evolved to one so bloody and tragic." Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Professor of History, Race, and Public Policy at Harvard, lays out a historical argument for how Black people have been criminalized over the past 400 years.
"Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eye and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy or too frightened, when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice."
- Robert F. Kennedy
It cannot be overstated: inequality is a massive threat to our democracy. Inequality destroys people's trust in our institutions and systems.
We must address the root causes and embrace the role we each have in advancing equality and justice.
From our role as community leaders to how we exercise our privilege as a force for change.
Use the lookup tool to see where your elected official stands on the issue.