The Harrisburg Police Department is looking to double down on the resistance in the age of Trump by militarizing their police force. They are asking Harrisburg City Council for $65,000 to purchase thirty new and updated riot gear suits, helmets, shields, and longer riot sticks. The department employs roughly 130 police officers and this could equip almost a quarter of the city’s force. This is the second time the police department is seeking such gear. The department was recently denied a $200,000 gaming grant application for riot gear and a simulator by Dauphin County.
At city council last week, Captain Deric Moody told members that the increase in protests, demonstrations, and rallies in the capital city and antifascist demonstrators as the main reasons for riot gear. Moody told the council that “he’s never experienced so many protests during his 25 years as a police officer,” and “as a capital city, we will continue to see more and more and more people come here to exercise their rights.”
Captain Moody told the council about a November protest and counter-protest between white nationalists and antifascist demonstrators as a reason for militarizing the police force. Moody stated that “protesters showed up with grocery carts filled with rocks and rotten tomatoes that apparently were injected with a chemical that irritated officers,” and that “state police were on the front lines of that protest and reported a stinging sensation to their skin after cleaning off the fruit that was thrown.” This was the first time Captain Moody or any law enforcement official shared this information with the public.
Then last Friday, Captain Gabriel Olivera tweeted about antifascists possibly desecrating Confederate gravesites at Gettysburg National Military Park. Captain Olivera tweeted a Pennlive article with its title”What is Antifa and why should you care if they show up in Gettysburg this weekend?” One thing though. The BBC reported that the Antifa flag burning event was a hoax, and Buzzfeed traced the origins of the hoax can be traced back to the local conservative tabloid Harrisburg 100 and a fake Harrisburg Antifa Facebook page.
This Stops Today Harrisburg is just one of local groups speaking out against this militarization, and with good reason. A 2014 UC Berkeley report studied police tactics and the use of riot gear at demonstrations during the Occupy movement, and found that “protests tend to turn violent when officers use aggressive tactics, such as approaching demonstrators in riot gear or lining up in military-like formations.”
A public meeting on the budget allocation is set for 5:30 this evening at city hall in downtown Harrisburg. Members of the local community are expected to show up for what will be a long council meeting.