Feb 022015
San Leandrans at the January 8, 2015, anti-police militarization rally

San Leandrans at the January 8, 2015, anti-police militarization rally.

Fear is a stone throw away from political repression, literally.

Update: The closed session meeting was finally cancelled on the day of the vote, but the City Council chambers were filled with police officers in uniform, in order to intimidate public speakers.  Two dozen citizens still spoke out against the tank. Only one San Leandro citizen without business ties to the police department spoke in favor of it.

Mayor Pauline Cutter has called for a special closed session meeting of the San Leandro City Council  tonight, to take place before the Council votes to acquire a BearCat (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck) for the Police Department.  The Council will secretly consult with SLPD Lieutenant Michael Sobek on a “threat to public services and facilities.”  When a neighbor inquired as to the nature of this threat, citing concerns for the children and students that will be participating in tonight’s rally, Cutter responded:

M., the agenda was revised because I decided not to have the pictures taken Monday night since there was going to be so much happening.
I believe there will be a lot of folks at the rally, I know it’s been posted all over the Internet and I just wanted to provide the new members some education on what their choices are if they feel threatened or unsafe during the meeting.
I will try my best to make sure everyone gets heard and everyone feels safe. I’m not expecting anything to happen but just want to give a little support to the new members and let them know that we have options if the meeting gets disrupted. I can honestly say I know of no plans for the police trying to interfere with the rally if fact I would imagine they of all people there would like everyone to have a peaceful rally.

There have been numerous rallies before City Council meetings, on contentious issues ranging from the flying of the Chinese flag over City Hall to the use of classroom funds to pay for police officers to spy on students.  A rally against police militarization before a Council meeting a mere three weeks ago garnered broad media attention and resulted in no greater disruption than spontaneous applause at points made by public speakers.

The fact that the City Council will be meeting secretly with the Police is particularly worrisome, as it suggests that the “options” Mayor Cutter wants her colleagues to consider solely involve police repression.  The Council, after all, will not be meeting with the City Attorney to understand what constitutes constitutionally protected speech at public meetings nor will it meet with facilities personnel to understand the security features present at the City Hall chambers.  Council meetings on contentious issues are usually heavily attended by police officers both in and out of uniform.

Even more worrisome is the fear of the citizenry that Mayor Pauline Cutter has voiced through this action and which her colleagues have yet to repudiate (they are invited to do so in the comments section).  A Mayor and a Council who fear their own citizens will surely arm the Police with repressive weapons to be used against them and will authorize the use of such weapons at the slightest hint of social unrest.    In this context, neither the purchase of the BearCat nor the policy which authorizes its use in every conceivable situation, including peaceful protests, is casual.  But it’s exactly such attitudes that must embolden citizens to stand up for their human rights and civil liberties and demand an end to police militarization and government repression.



Feb 012015

gunBearcatIf the San Leandro Police Department gets their way, not only will they get a brand new Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck (Bearcat), but they will be able to use it in whichever way they want.  The proposed policy allows use of the vehicle for “purposes including, but not limited to, calls for service involving potentially armed subjects, Tactical Team callouts, search warrants, officer or citizen rescues, or authorized training” (emphasis added).  The policy, furthermore, allows the use of the BearCat “during non-violent demonstrations” when “there are objective facts demonstrating a risk of injury or death to police officers and/or the public.”  As every human activity involves risk of injury – people can always fall, butt heads, get sunstroke – this language allows for the use of the vehicle at any non-violent demonstration.

The policy, furthermore, places no limits in the use of vehicle as a shooting platform (the BearCat comes equipped with 11 gun ports and a rotating roof hatch with a gunner stand) or on the use of the tear gas deployment equipment in the vehicle.

Even if the policy was stricter, the San Leandro Police has a history of disregarding policy when it doesn’t suit its needs.  In 2013, for example, the City Council passed a social media policy that prohibited the publication of photos of people in social media without the subject’s expressed authorization. The police disregarded this policy from the beginning, when I pressed the City Attorney about this, he responded that the City Manager would update the policy to suit the SLPD’s needs.  When Chief of Police Sandra Spagnoli, not only disregarded policy but broke the law by using City time and resources to coordinate lobbying against a medical marijuana dispensary ordinance, she faced no consequences whatsoever.

But a broad policy does signify that the SLPD will have no qualms about using this vehicle in any and every situation that it encounters, against regular citizens and non-violent protestors, that it will use it to intimidate members of the community and that it is more interested in appearing as an occupying force than a community safety tool.

The City Council will be voting on the BearCat on Monday, Feb. 2nd, at 7 PM.  A rally against the BearCat will take place at City Hall starting at 6 PM.




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 102015

The BearCat that the SLPD is trying to acquire.

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.