Rifles, night vision goggles, and mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles are just a few examples of military equipment that local police departments can get from the military through a special federal program. But, if Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D- parts of Queens, Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan) has her way, that pipeline will be demolished.
On Wednesday, Rep. Velázquez announced legislation that would repeal the 1033 Program — a federal initiative that funnels surplus military equipment from the military to local law enforcement agencies
The new legislation comes at a time of deep scrutiny of how local police departments nation-wide police their citizens and in the midst of weeks-long protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd who was killed after a Minneapolis police officer pinned him down by the neck for nearly 10 minutes with his knee.
“In recent weeks, we’ve seen footage of these military-grade vehicles being used to confront peaceful protestors who are exercising their first amendment rights to say, ‘Black Lives Matter’ and call for police reform,” Velázquez said in a press release. “Not only does deploying this military hardware fail to deescalate tensions, it actually makes the situation far more dangerous and leads to violence.”
According to the press release, the bill has seven co-sponsors, including Queens lawmaker Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Astoria, College Point, Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Woodside, parts of the Bronx). Rep. Ocasio-Cortez did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
The 1033 Program was signed into law under President Bill Clinton as part of the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act. According to the Defense Logistics Agency website, law enforcement agencies are allowed to “acquire property for bona fide law enforcement purposes – particularly those associated with counter-drug and counter-terrorism activities.”
The program was cut back but still in use during President Barack Obama’s administration. It was reinstated completely by President Donald Trump.
According to Rep. Velázquez’s press release, over $1.5 billion worth of military equipment was given to local law enforcement agencies between 2006 and 2014. Data analyzed by the Marshall Project in 2014 found that the New York City Police Department had received $742,468 in military equipment through the program, including two mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles.
The New York City Police Department, the Police Benevolent Association of New York City and the National Association of Police Organizations did not respond to requests for comments for this story.
The bill also has the support of organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the local immgration organization the New York Immigration Coalition.
Marita Perez, the director of the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance said that the militarization of police should have been ended long ago because people of color are affected disproportionately by militarized police responses, especially during drug investigations. She pointed to the case of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky who was shot and killed during a raid on her house.
“This is what allowed Breonna Taylor to be killed while she slept in her bed,” Perez said.