City Council

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 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.


Jan 062015


The San Leandro Police Department  wants to acquire a “Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck” like the one above – pretending that it’s some sort of glorified ambulance. The City Council is set to let them do it.

In reality, BearCat vehicles are used for regular law-enforcement purposes, such as serving warrants for minor crimes and collecting fines, and as intimidation tools against peaceful protesters. They are part of a broader project to militarize the police and use it as a potent repression tool against all sorts of political dissent. This particular model is outfitted with medical equipment inside, so they can sell it as a “Medevac tactical armored vehicle” – despite the fact that it’ll be used by the SLPD and not by medical personnel.

California cities like Davis have said NO to the militarization of police and are giving their tanks back – let’s stop San Leandro from becoming a police state!

The show-n-tell on the BearCat vehicle and the Rally will take place on January 8th at 5 PM at the Senior Center (13909 E. 14th Street, SL). There will be an opportunity to ask questions while looking at the vehicle.  You can expect your interactions with police, to follow this model.

At 6 PM there will be a City Council meeting with a sales pitch by the SLPD, followed by a comment period by the general public. As it’s a City Council meeting rather than a community meeting, there will not be an opportunity for questions to be answered.

Please share this invitation!

Jan 052015

aclustudnetsA lawyer from the ACLU has contacted a member of SAFE and explained that they are starting a review process on the tracking of kids’ online activities and the keeping of records on kids through graduation.   At their last City Council meeting, the Council approved a grant that will provide the San Leandro Police Department with resources to spy on students using social media and to maintain a database of any student behavior that could label a child as being “at risk,” this starting in elementary school.

The ACLU is working to determine if the SLPD’s proposed tracking and monitoring operations will be breaking any laws and if the policies and procedures around such tracking can be clarified in a way to build transparency and trust with the community.

The ACLU asked that we send in any additional information that could be helpful to their review.  This would include official documents on the social media monitoring, but also personal accounts of such experiences.  Please e-mail me anything you would like to pass on to the ACLU.