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 most of you are honorable people, trying to do a difficult job to the best of your abilities. And I think you have one of the worst jobs in the world, not because of physical danger, but because of the soul-killing experiences you go through. I would not want to risk my own humanity by doing that job, and I appreciate those who do.
The problem is not police officers. The problem is the system under which we all operate. The prison industrial complex requires an ever-increasing supply of people to fill out our private jails and utilize the services of the industries that profit from crime fighting, prisons and prisoners – including, increasingly, the military weapon industry.
As our crime rates go down, the system requires that we both manufacture and inflate the perception of crime. You play your part by buying into the rhetoric that every citizen you encounter is likely to be dangerous and must be treated accordingly, and by passing those same unjustified fears into the community as a whole. Because it’s easier for people to fear “the other,” you feed and feed on the racism that is so entrenched in San Leandro to justify both your fear and your brutality.
You want a BearCat. You want it because it’s cool and it makes you feel macho to drive one and because you think it will make you feel safe. Ironically, it will do exactly the opposite.
The BearCat is not just a shiny toy, but a symbol that you are no longer just a community police force looking to catch muggers and burglars, but an occupying para-military force whose purpose is to terrorize the population and suppress dissent. It’s a symbol that you are the Ferguson police, ready to tear gas us and water hose us and shoot us if need be. It’s a symbol that you are declaring war on us: people of color, activists, students, dissenters.
But when you decide to become a paramilitary force, you also become a target. You can’t do your job bunkering into that truck and never coming out and you can’t just kill every person you think will be dangerous – though make no mistake, that’s the path you are heading on by militarizing your force. You will not be safer.
You can only be safer by making others respect you, rather than fear you. By inviting dialogue rather than confrontation. By seeking peace rather than war.
It’s not too late to seek peace together.