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 312015
City Manager Chris Zapata

City Manager Chris Zapata

Police Chief Now to Report to City Manager, CIO to Report to Community Development Director

Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli, whose latest accomplishment includes the SLPD’s shooting of fleeing black and Latino suspects in three separate occasions, is now reporting directly to City Manager Chris Zapata.  She was previously reporting to Assistant City Manager Lianne Marshall.  Zapata has been explicit on his unwavering confidence on the police chief and has long taken the attitude that she can do no wrong, he has even excused the multitudes of falsehoods Spagnoli has conveyed to the City Council and the community as unintentional “misstatements”.  However, Spagnoli’s attempts to have the School District take money from classrooms to pay for police officer salaries ruffled political feathers above Zapata’s paygrade and he has been advised to reign her in.  Whether he has the ability to do so, however, is questionable.

Meanwhile, Chief Innovation Officer Deborah Acosta is no longer reporting to Chris Zapata directly.  Instead she will report to Community Development Director Cynthia Battenberg.  Acosta was brought in to market and expand Lit San Leandro, the city’s fiber optic loop, and to attract business and investment to town.  Battenberg has no experience on these matters.

Acosta appears to not have been consulted about this de facto demotion, which brings about the likelihood that she might not want to stick around.  Given that she is considered to be the most competent person at City Hall and that the City has gambled on Lit San Leandro beings its economic engine for the future, her exit would have a tremendous negative impact on the City.  Zapata’s decision to demote Acosta is most likely due to his own inability to manage more than a few department heads at the time – but also illustrates how he appears to have lost interest on his position as City Manager and is just going through the motions.  He has reportedly applied for other jobs, but he has been unable to convince any other city to hire him.

Marketing Lit San Leandro, meanwhile, has been more difficult than Acosta anticipated due, in great part, to Zapata’s hands off approach to the Police Department.  This has led to numerous incidents of police brutality, rampant racial profiling, police spying on school children, false arrests of men suspected of being gay, and community rifts due to increased surveillance and police militarization.  These incidents are regularly covered by the press and, coming on top on San Leandro’s long history of racial discrimination, do not make San Leandro a welcoming place for businesses researching San Leandro as a possible base of operations.  While the fiberloop is very attractive to businesses, other cities are in the process of installing their own, so San Leandro’s window of opportunity is limited.

(This article has been edited by the addition of the third paragraph)


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 122015

evolution of a local police officer.tif
If you live in San Leandro or a nearby, Students and Families For Education (SAFE) invites you to a:

Community Meeting on Police Militarization and Terror in San Leandro
Thursday, January 15th
7 PM
Zocalo Coffeehouse
645 Bancroft Avenue

Please come to share your story, discuss and organize around:

For more information please contact

Note: Zocalo will be open during the meeting, so you will be able to purchase food/drink.