President Donald Trump plans to sign an Executive Order on Monday to repeal restrictions placed by President Barack Obama on police access to surplus military gear, such as large caliber weapons, armored vehicles, bayonets, and grenade launchers, according to a report from the New York Times.
The “1033” program, which allowed police officers to access to excess military gear first started in the 1990s as a way for the military to transfer the excess equipment to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to fight the ongoing "war on drugs," CNN reported.
Obama first put the limits on the program that allowed police access to military grade weapons in the aftermath of several high-profile police killings of black men, most notably the 2014 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Brown’s death inspired protests and a nationwide call for justice for people killed by police officers. In Ferguson, where the demonstrations were most violent, St. Louis County police officers reportedly stood on top of armored vehicles and pointed sniper rifles at peaceful protestors, according to the Huffington Post.
— Samuel Sinyangwe (@samswey) August 28, 2017
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the policy changes during a speech at the Fraternal Order of Police conference in Nashville,Tenn.
“We are fighting a multi-front battle: an increase in violent crime, a rise in vicious gangs, an opioid epidemic, threats from terrorism, combined with a culture in which family and discipline seem to be eroding further and a disturbing disrespect for the rule of law," Sessions stated to a large crowd of law enforcement officials, according to CNN.
Vanita Gupta, former head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division under the Obama administration, stated that the guidelines on restricting access to military grade weapons were put into place to protect marginalized communities — and expressed concern over what repealing them will mean for the most vulnerable people in those communities.
— Vanita Gupta (@vanitaguptaCR) August 28, 2017
"These guidelines were created after Ferguson to ensure that police departments had a guardian, not warrior, mentality. Our communities are not the same as armed combatants in a war zone," Gupta said in a statement, later released on Twitter. "It is especially troubling that some of this equipment can now again be used in schools where our children are sent to learn."
The announcement of the policy change quickly outraged civil rights organizations throughout the country.
“We have an epidemic in the United States of police using excessive force, particularly against people of color, with injuries and deaths mounting," Kanya Bennett of the American Civil Liberties Union told NPR.