Drug Policy Alliance & The Leadership Conference Lead Coalition of 150+ Organizations Calling on Congress to End Military Equipment Transfers to Local Law Enforcement

Press Release May 13, 2021
Media Contact

Matt Sutton 212-613-8026
[email protected]

Washington, D.C. – Today, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights led a coalition of over 150 civil rights, drug policy, criminal justice reform, immigration, public health and faith-based organizations in urging members of the U.S. House of Representatives to support Rep. Nydia Velazquez’s bill—Demilitarizing Local Law Enforcement Act of 2021—to end the U.S. Department of Defense’s 1033 Program.

Since its inception, as part of the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act, the 1033 program has facilitated the transfer of more than $7.4 billion worth of equipment—including armored vehicles, grenade launchers, assault rifles, aircraft and more—to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies, creating a military-style police culture that has endangered—and even taken—countless lives, particularly in communities of color.

“If it weren’t for the militarization of police, Breonna Taylor and countless other Black, Latinx and Indigenous people would be alive today,” said Maritza Perez, Director of the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “While the 1033 program is not the only mechanism responsible for equipping local law enforcement to fight the drug war in the same manner our military is fighting wars abroad, it is by far the most lethal. If we don’t want police to kill, we have to stop giving them tools that are meant solely for that purpose.”
The letter argues that “while militarized police forces grew out of the drug war, militarization is a common staple of policing today. The 1033 Program, specifically, has contributed to the rise of the warrior cop mentality against Black and Brown communities. It has paved the way for militarized police responses to protests against police violence, like we witnessed in the summer of 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri when people protesting the killing of Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer were met with law enforcement equipped with tank-like vehicles and riot gear. This past summer, as mourners and protestors gathered in cities across the country to demand justice for George Floyd and other victims of police violence, at least 17 mine-resistant vehicles (MRAPs) obtained through the 1033 Program were deployed by police departments around the country.”

“With President Biden asking Congress to act on police reform, Representative Velázquez’s legislation to end the 1033 program must be included in any course of action Congress takes,” said Sakira Cook, senior director of the Justice Reform Program at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “The increased transfer of hyper-aggressive tools and equipment through the 1033 program has led to the militarization of policing and an increase in the number of senseless police killings terrorizing communities. Congress must pass this bill and abolish the program.” 

“Demilitarizing the police is a crucial step towards the broader goals of ending institutional racism and stopping police brutality,” said Yasmine Taeb, Human Rights Lawyer and Progressive Strategist. “Militarized policing supported by weapons of war has terrorized our communities, and in particular, our communities of color. We join millions of Americans across the country calling on Congress to shut down the 1033 Program once and for all.”

Yesterday, DPA and the ACLU also released a blog post detailing the 1033 program’s devastating impact on Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities and revealing findings from a report released yesterday showing Obama-era reforms failed to make any difference, demonstrating the need to abolish the program entirely. 

To find out more about the 1033 Program, see DPA’s latest fact sheet here.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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