Jan 242015

The following essay is by San Leandro citizen Tim Holmes

martin-luther-king-being-arrestedSan Leandro Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli marched with our San Leandro High School students in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

To claim to honor Dr. King while simultaneously propagandizing the purchase of a Bearcat for local police use (a tank with the lipstick of “medical” slapped on it) is a slap in the face of the memory of a man for whom that tank would represent the very boot of the oppressor.

To claim to walk in Dr. King’s honor while sitting at the helm of a rapidly expanding surveillance apparatus aimed at people not suspected of any crime, is offensive. Even more so as our government used illegal surveillance to gather private information with which they they attempted to blackmail Dr King, demanding he end his political activism under threat of exposing an affair, which is not illegal.

To those who suggest a camera on every block because you “have nothing to hide”, remember that while you may not be a target, those who fought for our freedoms and those who fight today to preserve them ARE targeted and we all pay the price for the squashing of political dissent, as will our children.

To those who say saving even one life is worth the tank and the surveillance state, I would remind you that men and women by the hundreds of thousands have given their lives to get and keep the freedoms and rights you are so casually tossing to the side as if worthless, for a possibility to “save one life.” There are things more precious than our individual selves and the freedom of our people is one for which Americans have and will continue to lay their lives down when necessary. Please, stop disrespecting those who have made such sacrifices by disrespecting the value of the rights the people of our country have earned through blood and loss.
To honor Dr. King would mean to act in a way consistent with his life and work, not pursuing the increase of oppression over the people of our country.

What would the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. feel should be done regarding the tank?

I suspect he’d make a clear case for the injustice and wrong-headedness of escalating a war against our own people and the inevitable impact in particular to the black people of America who have yet to feel relief from the crushing boot of oppression in a police state that has only continued to grow since his death.

Were he here to comment, he might site a psalms and proverb, neither of which would mention getting bigger weapons and putting up bigger walls, but would speak to actions we must take which will lay the groundwork so that equality is possible and so that we can break down the barriers between us: police and citizen, black and white, warrior and victim, oppressors and oppressed, occupiers and the occupied.

I hope Dr. King, his life and his death, is on all the council’s minds when they vote whether to reject the teargas-equipped Bearcat “Medevec” tank.

Jan 212015
Tim Holmes speaks at the "community meeting" on the SLPD acquiring of a BEARCAT

Tim Holmes speaks at the “community meeting” on the SLPD acquiring of a BEARCAT

This is the letter that Tim Holmes, a prominent San Leandro citizen and community activist, sent the San Leandro City Council. You can also read my own message to the SLPD on this matter.

To the members of the San Leandro City Council:

I attended the recent community meeting regarding the plans to obtain a Bearcat, I wasn’t able to complete my comments in the time allotted, so I’m including them in full here.

I am asking you vote no and to NOT accept this vehicle.

Tools only seem neutral. You pick one up, you use it and put it back. But the tools at your disposal determine how you solve a problem. “Give someone a hammer and everything begins to look like a nail.” This tool is not neutral.

This tool CAN be used as a medical vehicle, but it is, by any real-world definition, a tank. It’s a vehicle custom-built and sold as a military vehicle, with an oxygen canister, two folding stretchers, and a “MedEvac” sticker thrown in to put a veneer of humanitarian aid to get in through the door.

It CAN be used as a shield, but any shield with holes built-in was built as a firing platform first and foremost and a shield second.

There is no question this tool will be put to use, as any tool is. And, were you to be given a attack helicopter, that too would assist in pursuing bad guys, but when going down that path justifies any tool. Brick by brick we build the world we will live in. That’s the larger picture you need to keep in mind as your decisions will impact generations to come and shape the world they live in, without their participation or permission.

We all draw a line somewhere, a line over which we feel we lose our freedoms. There are countries, now and in the past, who have taken that path, but I don’t know anyone who considers those countries better for it.

That line differs for everyone, but the discussion about where that line is for this community is being denied. Instead our police department has already decided without public input, and is creeping that line forward more and more. The ever increasing and undisclosed number of license plate cameras, community surveillance cameras, with surprise microphones no less, the proposal for the Bearcat, and more. All of this is occurring without an open debate on the tradeoffs, while the police have pat answers to every concern, never even acknowledging that there is indeed a cost, a human cost, and a cost to our individual rights.

We must govern and make decisions under the assumption that people you do not trust will in charge, because the decisions you are making will affect our grandchildren and had somebody made these decisions 30 years ago, we would live in the free society we do today, even with the legacy of abusing the rights of minorities.

People feel the comparison to Ferguson is inappropriate, but it was only a few decades ago when being black in San Leandro was more dangerous than being in Ferguson today, and our police department followed the orders of our city’s culture of racism and abuse of powers. What would those elected officials and those police officers do with this vehicle… You must make laws to protect us from their sentiments now just as we needed that then. You are hearing about police abuse of power because it happens. It happens in the Bay Area today, not just in Ferguson and not just in our past. It really happens and citizens are justifiably fearful.

Because as things stand, the only way to ensure we aren’t the ones being persecuted is to lie low, stay quiet, and not raise trouble and in a democracy that’s not an acceptable trade off, for me and many others…. that’s unacceptably over the line. That’s our reality.

As a citizen of your city, a voter, a parent, local business owner, donor, community activist, and volunteer, I ask you to vote against accepting this vehicle.

Don’t allow us to be dragged back to a time when police cars sat on the border of Oakland, where minorities were unwelcome and discriminated against, and where our police were the stooges of those whose agenda isn’t American, isn’t moral, and which does not represent the people of San Leandro, the majority of whom are already discriminated against and fear the police, and yet make up the majority population of the city.

Thank you,

Tim Holmes

Jan 142015
Choices for Art Commission Show Nepotism at Play

Note: this article has been slightly expanded. If you start seeing a lot of sad and mediocre public art in San Leandro, you know whom you have to blame: the past and current members of the City Council who chose to appoint friends to the newly created Arts Commission instead of people with any sort of knowledge or experience in the Arts. When the City Council created an Arts Commission to decide on how to beautify San Leandro though art, they had the opportunity to populate it with outstanding artists and arts professionals.  Instead, three Councilmembers, Michael Gregory, Ursula Reed [Continue Reading]

Jan 122015
Community Meeting on Police Militarization and Terror in San Leandro

If you live in San Leandro or a nearby, Students and Families For Education (SAFE) invites you to a: Community Meeting on Police Militarization and Terror in San Leandro Thursday, January 15th 7 PM Zocalo Coffeehouse 645 Bancroft Avenue Please come to share your story, discuss and organize around: San Leandro Police Department (SLPD) profiling/harassment of people of color SLPD shooting and killing people of color fleeing from police: 3 shootings in 3 months SLPD slandering & devaluing the life of Latino SLHS/SLAM graduate homicide victim SLPD militarization, including BearCat & military-grade weapons Increasing use of surveillance on residents and [Continue Reading]

Jan 102015
My Message to the SLPD: The Bearcat is Not a Good Idea

This was my speech at the “community meeting” on the SLPD‘s planned acquisition of a Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck (Bearcat).  I addressed my comments to the SLPD, as the City Council has made it clear that their role is simply to rubber stamp any proposal brought by the Police. In other words, we officially have a police state in San Leandro. You can find Tim Holmes remarks here. While it may seem hard to believe, I appreciate our police officers.    Every single SLPD officer I have met, has treated me with politeness, courtesy and professionalism.  I think [Continue Reading]