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House lawmakers pressure Biden to ban transfer of military-grade weapons to police

A member of the Missouri Highway Patrol is seen atop an armored personnel carrier in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 18, 2014. The Defense Department has transferred $7.4 billion in surplus military equipment to police in nearly all 50 states. House lawmakers on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, were urging President Joe Biden to prevent military weapons and other equipment such as grenades, grenade launchers and armored military vehicles from being provided to local police forces.

JEFF ROBERSON/AP

By SARAH CAMMARATA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 6, 2021

WASHINGTON — Two dozen House Democrats sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Tuesday urging him to issue an executive order to restrict a Pentagon-led program that gives surplus military-grade weapons to law enforcement agencies.

The Defense Department has transferred $7.4 billion in surplus military equipment to police in nearly all 50 states.

“Law enforcement’s response to the civil rights demonstrations last summer show irrefutable proof of our police forces’ increasing aggression and brutality — images of local police in military vehicles, with military-grade weaponry trained on citizens exercising their constitutional right to peacefully protest,” wrote the lawmakers, led by Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.

The letter urges Biden to take immediate action, and follows a bill introduced by Johnson on March 9 that aims to prevent military weapons and other equipment such as grenades, grenade launchers and armored military vehicles from being provided to local police forces.

The “Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act” would reimpose limits that were lifted in 2017 by former President Donald Trump.

Former President Barack Obama placed restrictions on the 1033 program — named for the section of the National Defense Authorization Act that authorizes it — after local police in 2015 suppressed protests in Ferguson, Mo., using military-grade equipment.

The letter is meant to keep pressure on Biden to issue an order that reimposes the Obama-era restrictions — something the president had planned to do in late January.

The group of House lawmakers are urging Biden to take immediate action.

“We believe that the provisions of my bill ... in the form of an executive order, is a necessary step to implement commonsense reforms to the 1033 program. Only you, Mr. President, have the power to make this change immediately,” the letter reads.

More than 50 organizations also signed onto the letter including the Project On Government Oversight, a nonpartisan watchdog organization, and the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teacher’s union in the United States.

cammarata.sarah@stripes.com
Twitter: @sarahjcamm

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A surplus military mine-resistant armored personnel carrier drives down a street during a 2016 parade in Algona, Washington. The Snoqualmie Police Department acquired the vehicle as part of an equipment sharing program from the federal government. It is utilized by a coalition of small-city police departments.
ALGONA POLICE DEPARTMENT /FACEBOOK VIA