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How to demilitarize the police

By Oxfam
Many SWAT teams such as this one in Atlanta receive military weapons and vehicles from the US Defense Department's 1033 Program, and are disproportionately deployed in predominantly Black communities. These weapons transfers have been associated with increased use of force and killing of civilians. Curtis Compton / Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Weapons flowing from the military to civilian police forces are fueling human rights abuses against Black people and other communities of color in the US – and most recently protesters. Here’s what we can do about it, and how you can help #DemilitarizethePolice.

What’s the problem?

Across the United States, our government is transferring deadly weapons from the military to civilian law enforcement agencies. These weapons and other military equipment and vehicles are encouraging the use of increasingly violent tactics in even the most routine police work, everything from executing search warrants to responding to peaceful demonstrations.

It’s a problem because the pipeline of military weapons, including grenades, high-caliber assault rifles, bayonets, and even armored vehicles, are designed for use by soldiers in combat, not law enforcement officers on America’s streets – and research shows they are being disproportionately used against Black people and other people of color and make our communities less safe. This reality is part of a sad pattern: around the world, Oxfam has seen firsthand the impact of the proliferation of weapons on the rights of marginalized communities.

How can we reduce military weapons on US streets?

The Pentagon is transferring excess military weapons and equipment via a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) called Section 1033. Since 1996, when it began, the Pentagon has sent more than $7 billion worth of weapons and equipment to more than 8,000 civilian law enforcement agencies across the US.

Black communities – who have been disproportionately affected by this program – have been organizing and advocating for years to de-militarize the police.

Their efforts have gained critical momentum in recent weeks, and now, Congress is considering a ban on the transfer of dangerous weapons of war and imposing key community oversight. These measures are achievable now and lay the groundwork for the full repeal of the program.

Why is Oxfam working on this?

In over 70 years of fighting poverty all over the world, Oxfam has seen firsthand how poorly regulated arms flows and institutionalized discrimination from security forces undermine social and political development. In response, we have sought to disrupt the global flow of weapons fueling conflict, violence, and human rights abuses. In the process, we have worked closely with local partners to promote community-driven approaches to security and justice, and budgets that are rights-based and reflect community priorities. Here in the US, we are working with a range of Black-led, civil rights, and human rights organizations to apply these lessons.

Here’s what you can do about it right now

Congress is now considering legislation to eliminate the transfer of dangerous weapons of war through the 1033 Program. You can help by contacting your Senators today and asking them to support the bipartisan Schatz-Harris-Murkowski-Paul Amendment imposing key restrictions on the transfer of military weapons including strong oversight and transparency requirements.

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