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.