Even if Biden’s record wasn’t what it was, he’d still be responsible for the more than $1.72 billion in combat gear that’s gone out through the 1033 program since its inception. This is because as president, Biden could easily recall all this military equipment by issuing an executive order. The 1033 program isn’t a sales program—it only authorizes the Pentagon to loan military gear to police. The militarized equipment transferred through 1033 remains Pentagon property regardless of how long the matériel has been in police custody. Put simply, Biden is free to order the Pentagon to take all its stuff back. That’s why the values in the chart below are cumulative. That Biden isn’t using his presidential authority to revoke the combat gear on loan to police through the Pentagon’s 1033 program makes him responsible for all of it—not just the military gear that has been loaned out since he’s been in office (>$106 million).
When locals learned that the Johnson County, Iowa, sheriff’s office had gotten hold of a massive, mine-resistant vehicle, Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek reassured a skeptical public that officers would primarily use it during extreme weather events in order to save residents from the state’s extraordinary blizzards or floods. “Essentially it’s really a rescue, recovery and transport vehicle,” Pulkrabek said in 2014. But in the seven years since, the vehicle — which comes from the Pentagon’s much-maligned 1033 Program that arms local law enforcement with weapons, gear and vehicles leftover from the country’s foreign wars — has been used for almost anything but that. Iowa City police, who share use of the vehicle with the sheriff’s office, staged it near last year’s racial justice protests, where officers fired tear gas at peaceful protesters for refusing to disperse.
Police in the United States act with impunity in targeted neighborhoods, public schools, college campuses, hospitals, and almost every other public sphere. Not only do the police view protesters, Black and Indigenous people, and undocumented immigrants as antagonists to be controlled, they are also armed with military-grade weapons. This police militarization is a process that dates at least as far back as President Lyndon Johnson when he initiated the 1965 Law Enforcement Assistance Act, which supplied local police forces with weapons used in the Vietnam War. The public is now regarded as dangerous and suspect; moreover, as the police are given more military technologies and weapons of war, a culture of punishment, resentment and racism intensifies as Black people, in particular, are viewed as a threat to law and order.
The Pentagon’s 1033 program is the primary mechanism by which police acquire military hardware. Most of the items transferred are innocuous, but that’s only in terms of quantity; in terms of value, combat gear dominates the ledger. Not surprisingly the latter fact typically escapes police/DOD discourse. Matériel is what’s counted here. The values below reflect that of military hardware (“controlled” equipment) transferred through the 1033 program and not the office supplies or generators or t-shirts or whatever (“uncontrolled” equipment). Congress needs to pressure Biden to issue an executive order to 1) prevent future transfers; and 2) recall military equipment from police custody.
President Biden declared early in his presidency that he wants to advance racial equity. The new Secretary of Defense, General Lloyd Austin, the first Black person to serve in that role, announced his intentions to root out racism in the Pentagon. The Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) recently launched two new campaigns calling for specific actions the Biden administration can take to end militarization of black and brown communities and to end the 'forever war' on Afghanistan. Clearing the FOG speaks with Ajamu Baraka, the national organizer for BAP, about these initiatives and the imperative to build the antiwar, anti-imperialist movement during the Biden administration.
The Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) calls U.S. President Joe Biden’s executive order to alter the Department of Defense’s 1033 program because of his supposed commitment to racial justice an affront. The gratuitous militarization of police forces across the United States through this program has helped to turn these agencies into brutal weapons of repression. Therefore, nothing short of complete abolition of this program is acceptable. BAP has demanded abolition of the 1033 program since BAP’s 2017 founding. It now asks the public to sign a petition demanding the Biden administration and Democrats commit to abolishing this racist and brutal program.
The indefensible death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers and the indiscriminate police violence in subsequent protests have returned police misconduct to the center of our national conversation. It is not a conversation we may quickly or easily conclude. The problems in American policing are multitude and systemic, matters of both policy and culture. Much of this can only be corrected at the state or local level, and as there are around 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, this is a monumental task. In very few cases could sweeping federal action affect any substantive reform But one way in which Washington is directly implicated in police brutality is its contribution to the militarization of local police departments through the Pentagon’s 1033 Program and the so-called “war on terror” more broadly.