In the wake of the Pulse Nightclub shooting that left 50 people dead and several others wounded, police departments across South Florida have put in requests for equipment upgrades to ensure the safety of its officers.
We’re not talking bullet-proof vests, batons and pepper-spray, however.
According to the Miami New Times, the City of Miami Police requested $101,332.64 to spend on 148 new AR-15-style Bushmaster rifles, 148 rifle scopes and other supplies. The pricey appeal comes after the department used the Pulse Nightclub tragedy as an excuse to rush-order $300,000 worth of military-grade equipment back in July, the publication reports.
The City of Miami Commission is expected to approve the department’s request some time in September. The rifles alone are priced at $488.90 each and could cost the city a grand total of $70,018.80. This is excluding the 148 backup front sights and backup rear sights, 444 rifle magazines, and 148 hand guards the Miami PD also requested.
The department’s appeal for new military-style assault rifles has some civil rights activists concerned. Horacio Stuart Aguirre, head of Miami’s Civilian Investigative Panel, said he felt “troubled” when the police asked for more body armor equipment back in July. First the body armor, and now the assault-style weapons.
“It troubles me,” he told the Miami New Times. “I believe every man and woman has the right to go home alive. That includes police, but it also includes you and me; especially the not so wealthy, not so good-looking, or not so well-versed in social niceties.”
According to the paper, other local activists are concerned that the new military-grade equipment won’t be used to protect police officers, but instead to intimidate peaceful protesters who march to speak out against racial and social injustice. Activists from around the nation have long called for the demilitarization of police, stressing that officers with large assault rifles and soldier-like gear aren’t needed at peaceful demonstrations.
“Militarizing the police endangers our communities and heightens risk of injury and death to groups that are already disproportionately impacted by state violence,” Muhammed Malik, a former Racial Justice and Voting Rights Coordinator at ACLU Florida, told AlterNet. “The mentality of militarization within the context of a racist society warps neighborhoods into war zones and views residents as enemy combatants to be subdued by heavy force.”
The Miami New Times reports that 100 peaceful protesters were greeted by a semi-automatic rifle-wielding police officer as they convened at the Miami-Dade County Hall last month to request that city commissioners consider their campaign-finance proposal.
“This is intimidation,” wrote local activist Jasmen Rogers, as she posted a photo of the gun-toting officer to her Facebook page.
In an effort to scale back on police use of military-grade weapons, President Obama announced a plan in May to prohibit law enforcement agencies from getting their hands on heavy military-style equipment like assault rifles, grenade launchers and armored vehicles, among other things. According to Reuters, if police departments wished to purchase such equipment, they would have to do so through a private vendor. Oftentimes these vendors charge sky-high prices for the same supplies.
But Obama considered amending the ban after speaking with Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, and Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations.
At their meeting with the president, which took place three days after a lone gunman shot and killed five police officers in Dallas, the law enforcement leaders encouraged Obama to revisit the ban. They argued that their officers needed such heavy equipment to guarantee their safety and the safety of others during violent protests.
At Obama’s request, White House chief legal counsel Neil Eggleston will review the ban, Reuters reports.