U.S. Defense Department Gives Police $Billions In Military-Grade Heat

U.S. Defense Department Gives Police $Billions In Military-Grade Heat

The Defense Department gives police billions worth of military-grade heat to use against people protesting peacefully against racism and police brutality. Warren County Undersheriff Shawn Lamouree poses with a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle, or MRAP, in Queensbury, N.Y. Built for $500,000 each, they are among the biggest pieces of equipment the government gives to law enforcement agencies. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Equipment seen more commonly on battlefields than city streets played a prominent role in the police response to George Floyd protesters who were marching peacefully against racism and police brutality.

Images of police in riot gear attacking civilians with tear gas, flash-bangs, grenade launchers and armored vehicles have prompted several lawmakers from both parties to call for an end to the programs that arm civilian officers with gear typically used in active combat.

U.S. police forces have been getting more militarized for decades, and military equipment now makes up a significant portion of the domestic homeland security market, estimated to be worth $20 billion-plus in goods and services, CNBC reported.

Much of this militarized equipment is transferred to the police through two federal programs.

The 1033 program allows the Department of Defense to transfer excess military equipment to local law enforcement agencies for free, as long as they pay for shipping and maintenance. The program has sent more than $7 billion worth of excess military equipment to at least 8,000 local law enforcement agencies across the country, Marketplace reported.

The Clinton administration implemented the 1033 program in 1997 to help police fight the war on drugs. It transfers military gear that has outlived its expiration date to state and local authorities who apply for it.

The 1122 program lets police buy new military equipment using their own funding with the same discounts as the federal government.

The fact that the federal government is directly subsidizing purchases of militarized police equipment is not about safety, a policing and social justice expert said. It’s about business.

“This is really about creating a new market for defense contractors rather than really putting questions of public safety first,” said Alex Vitale, the Policing and Social Justice Project Coordinator at Brooklyn College. 

The 1033 program got attention in 2014 after a militarized police response to Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police shooting of Michael Brown. The Obama administration responded by placing some restrictions on the types of items that could be transferred to police departments, but the Trump administration lifted these restrictions in 2017.

“Certainly vendors, people, and companies that manufacture the technology that the police are purchasing are profiting from this,” said Thomas Nolan, a former senior policy advisor for the Department of Homeland Security. “The police obviously are not in the business of profiting from private acquisitions.”

What makes both 1033 and 1122 programs so powerful is the apparent lack of clear oversight and accountability. The 1033 program has put lethal weapons in the hands of officers who have no justifiable need for such equipment. “We’ve seen instances reported of some small towns, even some college and university police departments that were acquiring military-grade weapons without any demonstrable need for the use of these or the acquisition of these weapons,” according to Nolan.

The 1122 program is not a grant or transfer program and therefore not required to be monitored by the federal government.

In some cases, equipment transferred through these programs has simply vanished due to what appears to be a lack of oversight and poor bookkeeping. “There have been a number of situations where there have been audits of local police departments to try to figure out what they’ve done with this equipment,” said Vitale, “And these departments have been unable to provide adequate records.”

The National Police Foundation did an independent study and insists that a vast majority of equipment transferred through the 1033 program is non-lethal items as “clothing, personal protective equipment” and “basic infrastructure needs.”

Critics say police access to high-powered weapons of war allow police forces to build massive arsenals and encourages police violence.

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 73: Jamarlin Martin Jamarlin makes the case for why this is a multi-factor rebellion vs. just protests about George Floyd. He discusses the Democratic Party’s sneaky relationship with the police in cities and states under Dem control, and why Joe Biden is a cop and the Steve Jobs of mass incarceration.

“This militarization is contributing, potentially, to the higher rates of violence that we’re seeing more ubiquitously in this particular movement that’s happening right now,” said Sabrina Karim, a professor of government at Cornell University, on “Marketplace Morning Report”.

When the police show up at protests and use flash-bang grenades, tanks and other military equipment, it’s not making people feel protected.

“It’s going to make them feel that the police are not there to ensure that they are safely able to engage in the activities that they are engaging in that are protected by the Constitution,” Nolan told CNBC.

Read more: Fall Of America: Pentagon Held War Game For Military Response To Gen Z’s Rebellion Against Inequality And The Rigged System