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Military helicopters fly low through downtown Miami, shooting blanks

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Our warnings about the militarization of the police sure seem relevant when the police conduct military training operations on US soil, in the heart of our urban areas.

Joining Boston, St. Louis, Los Angeles and the many other cities that have hosted such events in recent years, Miami in January 2013 hosted secretive military training operations in the core of its urban corridor. The video above contains a local news report about the training that is very short on details, but long on government talking points. The reporter says that while "police [were] being pretty vague about where exactly they are doing this and also for how long…they [] say that public safety is their number one priority, so that's why you see a lot of this activity at night. And they want us to tell you that this is just a military training exercise."

The news clip contains footage from a photographer who captured some of the military helicopters on tape as they flew low through downtown Miami's Brickell neighborhood, right past his window. He was outside, he said, and "heard all this machine gun fire, and I hit the deck. I didn't know what to expect and it was one of the loudest things I've ever heard." The military was apparently shooting blanks from the helicopters, although it's not clear that anyone in the neighborhood knew that at the time.

The local press didn't seem to have very many details about the operation, but showed the public footage of some police cruisers racing through the city and police boats on patrol in Miami harbor. "It's a joint military training exercise involving local police," the television reporter said. "They are doing these exercises…to prepare for overseas drills, to make sure all of their equipment is in check."

The Miami Herald reported something similar, quoting a police statement: “This is routine training conducted by military personnel designed to ensure the military’s ability to operate in urban environments, prepare forces for upcoming overseas deployments, and meet mandatory training certification requirement."

Routine training, huh? Domestic military training ops in our cities are going to be the routine now? Why does the military have to check its equipment on and above our city streets? Don't they have military bases for that? And why would the US military want to be able to operate in urban environments in the United States anyway?

It appears as if nobody in the Miami press bothered asking these questions. But the police mentioned public safety, so it's no wonder people lost their critical faculties. Those words, as well as "homeland defense," have a way of making otherwise critical people less than inquisitive.

UPDATE: Only a few days after the Miami military operation our troops descended on Houston, Texas to do something similar. An ABC local news report makes it seem as if no one was warned in advance, and people seemed really freaked out:

"She told me 'don't come home it sounds like we're in a war zone. Guns, shooting, helicopters flying around the house,'" Isaac Robertson Jr. said.
The U.S. Army along with other agencies took over the old Carnegie Vanguard High School near Scott and Airport. There were armed men in fatigues, plenty of weapons and what many thought were real live rounds
"I felt like I was in a warzone." Jerrals said. "It was nonstop. I was terrified."
Turns out, it was a multi-agency training drill that Jerrals wished would have come with warning.
"They could have done a better job in notifying the neighborhood," Jerrals said.
The Army did not give any details of what the training is for. Some people we spoke to needed no explanation.
"If it's to protect our kids, I'm all for it," neighbor Glenn DeWitt said. 

It's a good thing no one had a heart attack and died out of fear. You'd think that the military would be concerned about its veterans having PTSD-induced panic attacks, and would therefore at the very least warn the public extensively before doing these sorts of things in people's neighborhoods. Looking out your window in Houston and seeing something reminiscent of a war you thankfully survived in a far away land would probably bring back some bad memories. h/t @rdevro

UDPATE II: The military was reportedly shooting blanks in Miami, but that's not always so during domestic training operations. Back in 2004 an Air National Guard F-16 warplane accidentally shot at a New Jersey elementary school. Luckily no one was hurt. From the New York Times:

The Air National Guard warplane, flying a night training mission out of Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, fired a burst of 27 rounds from its 20-millimeter cannon shortly before 10:15 p.m. as it streaked over Little Egg Harbor Township, 20 miles north of Atlantic City, New Jersey military officials said last night.
Col. Brian Webster, commander of the 177th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard, said that the pilot, who was not identified, fired the cannon inadvertently just as he turned into a dive to strafe a target at the Warren Grove firing range in Ocean County, a sprawling military reservation in the Pine Barrens that has been used for bombing and strafing practice since World War II.
The pilot was to have fired the half-second burst of shells well into the dive, at about 5,000 feet, the colonel said, but instead the cannon went off at an altitude of 7,000 feet, and at least eight of the bullets – non-explosive lead slugs more than 2 inches long – crashed through the roof of Little Egg Harbor Intermediate School, three miles south of the target range. No one was hurt, and the damage was minor.

Read more about the militarization of the police in the United States.

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