Rep. Johnson Urges President Biden to Issue EO on Police Militarization

April 6, 2021
Press Release
Congressman pushes president to reform Pentagon’s 1033 Program that gives military-grade weapons to local law enforcement departments for free

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Hank Johnson (GA-04) sent a letter to President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. urging him to issue an executive order to de-militarize law enforcement agencies across the country.

Congressman Johnson, sponsor of the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act (SMLEA) since 2014, said a well-executed executive order that reflects the language of his bill would be: “a reasonable step towards demilitarizing our police forces while preserving the safety of our communities.”

More than 25 colleagues joined Rep. Johnson on the letter. Read the full letter HERE or below.  

“Decades of militarization of our nation’s law enforcement have led to some police departments looking more like an occupying army than a community-based regulatory arm of state and local government,” the letter states. “To date, DOD has transferred more than $7.4 billion in excess military equipment to over 8,000 federal, tribal, state and local law enforcement agencies across the country. 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.”

Co-signers include (28): Rep. Gwen Moore (NY); Rep. Nadia Velazquez (NY); Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC); Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ); Rep. Rick Larsen (WA); Rep. Brenda Lawrence (MI); Rep. Barbara Lee (CA); Rep. Karen Bass (CA); Rep. Mark Pocan (WI); Rep. Raul Grijalva (AZ); Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR); Rep. James McGovern (MA); Rep. Ro Khanna (CA), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (MI), Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH), Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr. (VA), Rep. Steve Cohen (TN), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA), Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL), Rep. Adriano Espaillat (NY), Rep. Cori Bush (MO), Rep. Peter Welch (VT), Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ), Rep. Anthony G. Brown (MD), Rep. Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia (IL), Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN), Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragan (CA), Rep. Andre Carson (IN).

Supporting organizations (56): American Federation of Teachers, Beyond the Bomb, Campaign for Liberty, Center for Civilians in Conflict, Center for International Policy, Center on Conscience & War, Church World Service, CODEPINK, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Common Defense, Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, U.S. Provinces, Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Defending Rights & Dissent, The Feminist Foreign Policy Project, Foreign Policy For America, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Gays Against Guns, Government Information Watch, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Historians for Peace and Democracy, Human Rights First, Japanese American Citizens League, Jetpac, Jewish Voice for Peace Action, Justice is Global, Justice for Muslims Collective, Massachusetts Peace Action, National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Immigrant Justice Center, National Partnership for Women & Families, National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, Open the Government, Oxfam America, Pax Christi USA, Peace Action, Poligon Education Fund, Progressive Democrats of America, Project Blueprint, Project On Government Oversight (POGO), The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, Restore The Fourth, ReThinking Foreign Policy, RootsAction.org, Secure Families Initiative, Security Policy Reform Institute (SPRI), Southern Border Communities Coalition, Stand Up America, United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries, The United Methodist Church - General Board of Church and Society, U.S. Labor Against Racism and War, Veterans for American Ideals, Women's Action for New Directions, World BEYOND War.

April 6, 2021

Mr. Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Biden,

We write to urge you to issue an executive order to direct the Department of Defense to effectuate the revisions to the “1033 program” found in my legislation, the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act (H.R. 1694), introduced March 9, 2021 in the House of Representatives. My bill would codify commonsense reforms to prevent the transfer of certain excess Department of Defense (DOD) military-grade weaponry to federal, tribal, state and local law enforcement agencies. We believe that utilizing this same language in an executive order is a reasonable step towards demilitarizing our police forces while preserving the safety of our communities.

Decades of militarization of our nation’s law enforcement have led to some police departments looking more like an occupying army than a community-based regulatory arm of state and local government. To date, DOD has transferred more than $7.4 billion in excess military equipment to over 8,000 federal, tribal, state and local law enforcement agencies across the country. 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.

Studies have shown that the presence of military hardware in untrained hands increases the likelihood of negative outcomes. When a law enforcement officer is armed with a military-style weapon, they are simply more likely to use it. The inappropriate use of such weapons is incentivized by a perverse requirement that to keep the equipment transferred under the 1033 program, the receiving agency must utilize it within one year or it must be returned to DOD. This militarization of our police departments inherently decreases the trust that is crucial to the successful and necessary relationship between these agencies and the communities they are sworn to protect and serve. This program instead blurs the line between local police and an occupying military force. 

Although President Obama issued an executive order to limit the transfer of military weapons and equipment, it stopped short of full reform and was ultimately reversed by President Trump in 2017. We believe that the provisions of my bill, the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, 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 language in my legislation has already successfully passed the House as part of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in the 116th and 117th Congresses. It would prevent the transfer of equipment contrary to the safety purposes of local policing, such as military weaponry, long-range acoustic devices, grenade launchers, weaponized drones, armored military vehicles, grenades and other explosives. It would also require recipients to certify that they can account for all military weapons and equipment. This bill would prohibit re-gifting from one agency to another and add much-needed requirements to enforce tracking mechanisms that control transfers of the equipment.

During your campaign, you reiterated your commitment to stopping the transfer of weapons of war to local police forces. My legislation not only fixes what is broken but does so without compromising the integrity of the parts of the program that provide integral office and safety equipment to law enforcement agencies.

Our neighborhoods need to be protected, including from dangers posed by the militarization of police. This reasonable step falls squarely within your executive authority as President of the United States. We urge you to exercise this power immediately and sign an executive order that outlines the above before another small town is transformed into a war zone with gifts of grenade launchers and armored military vehicles.

Sincerely,

Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr.                                    

Member of Congress     

Letter: https://hankjohnson.house.gov/sites/hankjohnson.house.gov/files/documents/SMLEA_EO_H.Johnson.pdf                                              

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