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US President Donald Trump signed an order yesterday allowing police forces to tool up with lethal military equipment.
The Department of Defence’s Excess Property Programme, known as the 1033 Programme, allows police forces to obtain surplus military equipment.
In 2015, then president Barack Obama imposed limits on what forces could get their hands on, stopping the supply of armoured vehicles, grenade launchers and machine-guns among other materiel designed for war zone use.
But Mr Trump’s executive order, which coincided with an address to the policy conference of the Fraternal Order of Police in Nashville, Tennessee, by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, will remove all restrictions on what the forces can obtain under the programme.
Mr Obama took action following outrage over the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, by police officer Darren Wilson.
The shooting helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement.
Even before the events in Ferguson, the American Civil Liberties Union had published a report entitled War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarisation of American Policing.
Another report published last month revealed how congressional investigators were even able to set up a fake law enforcement agency and get hold of $1.2 million (£929,000) worth of rifles, pipe-bomb equipment and other kit from the Pentagon, which “never did any verification, like visit our ‘location’.”
The investigators concluded that “it was like getting stuff off eBay.”
Scrapping the 1033 Programme was one of the key demands of the Campaign Zero movement launched by Black Lives Matter activists, which also demanded an end to the use of fines for filling gaps in police budgets and tightened restrictions on the circumstances in which an officer is permitted to use deadly force.
Mr Obama admitted that police using militarised gear could appear to be an “occupying force” in minority communities.
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights president Vanita Gupta told the CNN news service that “our communities are not the same as armed combatants in a war zone.
“These guidelines were created after Ferguson to ensure that police departments had a guardian, not warrior, mentality.”
A White House summary of the executive order states that much of the military equipment police obtain is “entirely defensive in nature,” though military drones, high-calibre guns, bayonets and even “107-millimitre mortar-carrying tanks” are among the weaponry previously distributed through the programme.
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