Written by Josie Wales; Originally appeared at TheAntiMedia.org
On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new executive order that will lift a ban on the distribution of certain types of military-style equipment to local law enforcement agencies. The ban reverses a previous executive order issued during the Obama administration in response to widespread criticism after a paramilitary-like show of force by police during protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2015.
“We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them,” Obama said at the time. “It can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message.”
Civil rights experts are voicing the same concerns now that the Trump administration has announced a rollback on Obama’s ban. “We’re very worried that this signals to law enforcement that they can operate more as a militarized force and they are really going to ignore some of the gains we’ve made over the past couple years,” said political director for the ACLU of Michigan Shelli Weisberg.“We’re very concerned about it. We think it’s a bad step.”
Janai Nelson, associate director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said:
“It is both exceptionally dangerous and irresponsible for the administration to lift the ban on the transfer of certain surplus military equipment to state and local law enforcement organizations.”
Nelson also said the timing of president’s decision in the wake of the events in Charlottesville, VA, “reflects this administration’s now open effort to escalate racial tensions in our country.”
Sessions announced the decision on Monday morning at the Fraternal Order of Police convention in Nashville, telling the FOP:
“We will not put superficial concerns above public safety…The executive order the president will sign today will ensure that you can get the lifesaving gear that you need to do your job and send a strong message that we will not allow criminal activity, violence, and lawlessness to become the new normal. And we will save taxpayer money in the meantime.”
The executive order, effective immediately, will permit state and local law enforcement agencies to receive military supplies, including “vehicles (land, air and sea), weapons, computer equipment, fingerprint equipment, night vision equipment, radios and televisions, first aid equipment, tents and sleeping bags, photographic equipment and more,” the Justice Technology Information Center summarized.
It is implemented through the Department of Defense’s 1033 program, which was previously Section 1208 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1990. The provision, which was intended to help wage the war on drugs, became Section 1033 in 1996 and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. After 9/11, the program’s function expanded to ostensibly support counter-terrorism activities.
A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) undercover investigation found the Department of Defense issues these weapons of war wantonly, often failing to verify the qualifications of the recipients. The department was caught issuing $1.2 million worth of weapons to a fake police department.