A few weeks ago the news showed a quick glimpse of a scene and there were 4 or 5 police officers hanging on to a tank. This was not somewhere across the world. It could have been South LA or Sacramento or San Leandro or Ferguson Missouri, but it wasn’t. This was in East Oakland.
We barely noticed.
This September, the San Leandro Police Department, a city just outside Oakland, accepted a BearCat which is an armoured military vehicle. In an effort to explain the need for such drastic “security” equipment, San Leandro Police Chief Jeff Tudor called the military vehicles “a critical resource” for “times of emergency.”
As we learn more and more about advanced surveillance technology and the regular presence of drones and military vehicles in police departments; We are forced to ask the question– What would inspire the federal government to give free access to military equipment to local police forces?
Last month, the Black Panther Party celebrated its 50th anniversary. Considered the Vanguard of the Movement, the Panther’s revolutionary spirit was rooted in self-determination and Black empowerment. It was because of this courageous and unshakeable faith that the Panthers were targeted, harassed, surveilled, thrown in jail, and murdered. Led by former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, the COINTELPRO program was created to “investigate and disrupt dissident political groups in the United States.” 1 In other words, the government under COINTELPRO, used tactics to monitor, dismantle and ultimately destroy the Panthers that caused chaos and violence across the country. For what exactly? To prevent Black unity, to prevent coalitions, to stop the rise of a “messiah” who could unite and inspire the Black movement. 2
When leaders of the Party tried to point out the infiltration and violence by the the FBI and local police, they were often labeled as paranoid.
Now, 50 years later, as Black resistance continues rising up and calling out the institutional abuses stemming from white supremacy and global capitalism — we see efforts to monitor and surveil our communities–this time, it is through the militarization of police.
This time, it is becoming normal.
Why is that we have bomb robots in Detroit schools? 3 Why is that the government is responding to Lakota Tribe members and other Native people who are protecting the vital water source with militarized police? Why is it that we need military vehicles such as MRAPs and BearCats when a community is speaking out against another non-indictment or another government approved murder?
In 2016, what we see is a continuation of an anti-revolutionary system that has continued over the last 50 years. It has evolved to be more high tech and normalized but has the same goal–to control Black, Brown and poor people.
We live in a country that is at war with many people and some of them are us. We live in a country that is at war with people who threaten the economic interests of corporations and individuals who control those corporations. The ability to maintain power is often associated with control of land, control of natural resources and control of labor. In order to maintain that control there can be no protest. There can be no dissent– especially by the people whose oppression they benefit from or by the people who are the original holders of the land.
However, if we can imagine that we deserve more and that it is possible, we can began to notice the tanks, the guns, and the unnecessary policing of our children. We can begin to realize that those same tanks in our streets, are the same tanks used to terrorize Palestinian children. We will begin to see that those same weapons and the same deadly force used in East Oakland, is being used in North Dakota and across the country. Once we begin to see , we will be able to understand that we are bigger than what we think. We will begin to see the interconnectedness of our struggle.
When we remember that we stand on the shoulders of a group of people who determined that they would no longer be afraid–we must ask ourselves what will they say about us in 50 years? How far will we let this go? Will schools have high walls and armed snipers? Will Black neighborhoods be under martial law? Will Muslims be forced to register with the state? It sounds strange to imagine, but time and enough soundbites and propaganda that create fear of our own community, we allow these things to become normal. 50 years ago would our parents and grandparents have imagined police forces and military weapons in schools? Would they have imagined tanks in East Oakland?
We have a pattern of relinquishing our rights and letting go of these truths as soon as someone makes us afraid. A random shooter in a white suburban school somewhere in the country could very well lead to an increased police budget in Oakland, or an armoured tank rolling casually through inner-city neighborhoods. It’s time to notice.
James Baldwin wrote a letter to Angela Davis in 1970 that could be written to us now 4. He ended the letter as follows:
The enormous revolution in Black consciousness which has occurred in your generation, my dear sister, means the beginning or the end of America. Some of us, white and black, know how great a price has already been paid to bring into existence a new consciousness, a new people, an unprecedented nation. If we know, and do nothing, we are worse than the murderers hired in our name.
If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own—which it is—and render impassable with our bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.
- “How the FBI Conspired to Destroy the Black Panther Party,” In These Times, 12-04-2013 http://bit.ly/1U8DLVp
- “The FBI Campaign to “Neutralize” the Panthers” http://bit.ly/2fh7QFn
- “The Pentagon Finally Details its Weapons-for-Cops Giveaway” The Marshall Project – 12-03-2014
- “An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis” The New York Review of Books – 11-19-1970