All this week in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, not too unlike San Leandro, we have seen the consequences of the militarization of police. Peaceful protesters are met with tear gas, batons and even guns. When some people take advantage of the situation to loot, the Police, rather than protect the businesses, used it as an excuse to further repress the protesters.
Meanwhile, the civilian authorities back the police and excuse their behavior. After talking to San Leandro City Manager Chris Zapata, it became clear that he would support the SLPD no matter what they would do. When I asked him for an example of a situation when he wouldn’t support them, the only one he could come up with was building them a $60M new facility – but only because the City can’t afford it.
Mayors, council members and city managers support the unrestrained use of police power because democracy is not really working in America. Ferguson, a city with 70% African-American citizens, has an all-white city council and a mostly white police force. San Leandro does somewhat better, but our only African-American councilwoman long sold herself to the Police in exchange for political support. As she said during a Council meeting “I’m a police lover.”
But ultimately, we have ourselves to blame for not taking advantage of the opportunities that democracy brings us. The Ferguson and San Leandro councils are pro-police because people of color, young people and even young parents don’t vote. Only a quarter of San Leandrans are white, and yet whites make up the majority of the voters. The median age of voters during the last election was 50; it’s likely to be higher this November.
Now, I understand the reasons for not voting, the feeling of complete disenfranchisement, of choosing between candidates that are too similar and all are saying the same thing. But it’s a vicious cycle, candidates appeal to the elderly/scared crowd because they vote. If we don’t vote, we don’t have a voice.
This November, let’s break the circle. Please, please, please, encourage, nag, bribe, embarrass your children, your friends, your family members, your neighbors, your students, your co-workers and business acquaintances into voting. If all candidates are bad, do choose the least evil. Maybe next time someone with views closer to yours will run.
But voting gives you some immediate power. Politicians only care about people who vote. Candidates for office will buy a voter list that indicates in which elections each registered voter voted. They will only call you, knock on your door and send you mail if you are a frequent voter or newly registered. If you don’t vote often, you don’t exist – your opinions don’t matter. But if you do, when they call you, knock on your door, etc., they will pay attention to what you have to say.
In San Leandro, we are fortunate in that we have some candidates who have clearly spoken against police militarization: Dan Dillman, who is running for Mayor and Mike Katz-Lacabe and Mia Ousley, who are running for City Council. If you want to prevent what happened in Ferguson happening in San Leandro, voting for them is a start.