Entries Tagged 'Occupy' ↓
February 5th, 2012 — Occupy
WEEKEND EDITION FEBRUARY 3-5, 2012
by OSHA NEUMANN
“The Bay Area Occupy Movement has got to stop using Oakland as their playground,” said Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, speaking at a press conference Saturday evening after a day of demonstrations called by Occupy Oakland that saw approximately 400 arrests, multiple injuries, and numerous confrontations with police. She ticked off the damage that had been done when a group of protesters broke into City Hall, overturning a scale model of the building, vandalizing a children’s art exhibit, and burning an American flag. The next day in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, she returned to her talking point: “It’s like a tantrum . . . They’re treating us like a playground.”
For the first time since October when the Oakland police violently evicted the occupation from Frank Ogawa Plaza after renaming it in honor of Oscar Grant, Mayor Quan, her protesting days behind her, looked genuinely comfortable in the role of champion of law and order. It was as if by trashing City Hall, Occupy had done her a favor. She was the adult, genuinely concerned with the well-being of the city. We were children, playing childish games, oblivious to the serious real-world consequences of our actions.
Occupy’s response to the mayor’s scolding was predictable. On KPFA the next day, Marie, speaking as a representative of the movement, was unapologetic. “The war in the streets is a visible manifestation of the invisible war on the poor . . . the violence of the capitalist system.” In a statement put out by the Occupy Oakland media committee, Cathy Jones, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, is quoted as saying: “Never have I felt so helpless and enraged as I do tonight. These kids are heroes, and the rest of the country needs to open its collective eyes and grab what remains of its civil rights, because they are evaporating, quickly.” She agrees with Mayor Quan that those of us who were in the forefront in the confronting the police were “kids,” but for her they were “heroic.” For Mayor Quan they were just bratty.
Power always represents itself as adult, rationale and in control. The socially sanctioned definition of what it is to be adult includes the ability to be compliant with the self-repression required of an obedient and productive member of society. Since those of us in opposition have no desire to be obedient and less to be productive cogs in the machine, it’s no wonder we fall into the role of defiant children.
It may be inevitable that in the confrontation between radical movements and the systems they oppose there are echoes of the conflict between child and adult. We who march in the streets in defiance of the orders of the police have legitimate reason to rage against the system. It in no way negates the legitimacy of that rage to say that it may also have an “infantile” component.
Occupy is not a monolith. On Saturday within the motley of demonstrators one group stood out. They were the “kids” with the black bandannas and hoodies. Some carried makeshift shields constructed from segments of plastic trash cans painted black with peace signs spray-painted in white on the front. Some carried impressive movable barricades composed of rectangular sheets of strong corrugated steel, screwed to wooden frames to which handles had been attached so that three or four people could hunker behind them and push them into lines of police. It was this group that was in the forefront in the attempt to pull down the chain-link fence around the Kaiser Convention Center. A takeover of that center had been announced as the goal of the demonstration. Thwarted in that effort, the group got into a confrontation with a line of police blocking Oak Street south of the intersection with 12th. This black block of anarchist youth tends to identify with insurrectionist anarchism. They are our militants who will be the first to challenge the police, and who proudly proclaim their disrespect for property rights. I imagine that for them the rest of us appear as somewhat compromised and a bit timid, for we are unwilling to go as far as they in our commitment to the revolution. Here something of the dynamic between child and adult reemerges as a political division within the movement. We who do not come to demonstrations dressed in black become the model of a not quite legitimate “maturity;” the purest revolutionary energies are represented by those who reject this maturity, as a fraud — the heroic kids.
Jean Quan’s insinuates that we act like children. I say “we”, because the black bloc is part of us; we cannot disown them. Infuriating as her charge may be, I think it contains something worth looking at. Her version of being grown-up is compromised. If to be a grownup means to live forever within the confines of the system, let us all be Peter Pans. But in our righteous rejection of her version of adulthood there lies a danger. The danger is that without being aware of it, we are unable truly to imagine winning; that we remain heroic “kids,” endlessly reenacting a drama in which we are abused by the authorities. (It might be worthwhile looking at whether we get a masochistic pleasure in being fucked over by them.)
At 7:37 PM on Saturday, I was relaxing at home when I got a text message from the Occupy Oakland alert system: “People have broken into City Hall. Standoff with police. Support needed.” I got into my car and drove downtown. By the time I arrived, the police had surrounded the building. I walked in an unguarded side door and caught a glimpse of a hallway strewn with overturned wastebaskets before a squad of police arrived and demanded that I leave.
Outside in the plaza people were milling about. I overheard someone say that the tires of a Channel 5 television truck had been slashed and an unsuccessful effort had been made to pull the camera from the shoulder of a cameraman. An ambulance pulled up on 12th St., its lights flashing. Photographers swarmed around it as paramedics wheeled up a gurney and loaded an injured person into the back. I heard someone shout, “This is what the police did.” A newspaper the next day reported that the person on the gurney was a pregnant woman who’d been jabbed in the spleen by the police. I hope she does not lose her spleen. I hope she does not lose her child. If we are playing games, they are dangerous games.
After the ambulance left, a woman dressed in black took a bullhorn, stood at the top of the steps at the edge of the plaza and shouted: “Mike check. Who wants to go on a Fuck the Police March?” A good part of the crowd ignored her, but a number of fists shot into the air, and there were shouts of approval. A group of about150 people started to move into the intersection at 14th and Telegraph.
It is at this point that my attention was drawn to a boy who walked out into the street to join the group assembling for the march. He looked to be between eight and ten years old. His wore a gas mask that completely concealed his face and a metal helmet. From his belt hung a pair of leather gloves. The gas mask was odd, because there was only one police officer in the area and he was sitting nonchalantly on his motorcycle. None of the other demonstrators were wearing gas masks. The boy didn’t swagger, nor did he show any signs of timidity. He was holding a small digital camera and taking photographs. I looked around to see whether there was an adult with him, but he appeared to be completely alone. What was he doing there? Where were his parents? Why was nobody paying any attention to him?
My old man’s heart went out to that boy. I was tired after marching, around half a day. I felt a bit intimidated by the unwillingness I sensed in the boy’s manner to be treated as a child. The Fuck the Police march was about to take off. I didn’t do what I wanted to do — go over and talk to him. He was a child, trying to act like an adult, and in many ways pulling it off, while the adults around him were playing their dangerous games in the playground of the revolution.
Later, when I got home, I had another thought, tangentially related in my mind to the problem posed for me by the little boy and that big girl, Jean Quan, with her playground analogy. We need to be a movement that, while remaining militant, demonstrates clearly it has overcome its self absorption, and can reach out to those who have lived a lot of life, suffered and managed against all odds to preserve some dignity, who have remained afloat in a sea of troubles, who care for the young, the old and the sick, for neighbors families and friends. On Saturday, I looked around as we marched through the streets. We were, a few gray hairs excepted, overwhelmingly young. We were primarily, though by no means exclusively white. We did not look much like a cross-section of the blighted neighborhoods of Oakland where an ever present struggle is taking place against poverty and hopelessness, where foreclosed houses stand empty, and the unemployed idle on the corner under the watchful eye of the police.
I believe we need to be a movement against repression that can be self regulating. We need a movement that is capable at the same time of proclaiming “Freedom now,” and “Freedom not quite yet.” In its best moments the Occupy movement has been that. But sometimes it has been unable to maintain the balance. Saturday was one of the days when things got out of whack.
How could it have been different? The goal of taking over the Kaiser Center for community use was admirable, even brilliant, but in the end the point of what was billed as “Move-in day” got lost in meaningless rumbles with the police and the trashing of City Hall. (A note of caution here: Since no was arrested in the City Hall trashing, we cannot rule out that it was the work of agents provocateurs. Be that as it may, the failure to obtain our objective and to control the meaning of our actions cannot be blamed on infiltrators.) What if, instead of a group within Occupy picking a target and then calling for a day of action, we had initiated a campaign to make that building available for community use? We could have gone out into the neighborhoods, held meetings, where we would discuss whether people liked the idea of occupying the building and what they would like to see happen in the space. With our numbers swelled and diversified by those we had organized, we could make demands to the mayor and the city council in the name of the people. We could legitimately say our movement represented the 99%. Those whom we had been organized would speak eloquently. If we succeeded and were given the space for the community, it would be a great victory. If, as is more likely, our eloquence fell on deaf ears, thenwe could have our day of action; we would bring thousands into the streets, we would march on the Center, we would not have to conceal the location of our target till the last moment. Perhaps during the night a clandestine group would have broken into the building. We would ring the building in great numbers. Now would be the time for militancy, for tearing down fences, for breaking through police lines, as well as perhaps for nonviolent sit-ins.
This scenario might not be acceptable to insurrectionist anarchists who do not wish to make any demands on government. No doubt, it is open to criticism. I admit it’s an example of backstreet movement driving. But I think if we could more effectively combine organizing and militancy it would be much more difficult to make the case that we were treating Oakland like our playground. Those who really treat this country like their playground are the 1%. And somewhere in the mix of organizing and action that I imagine, I see a place for that little boy. I see a movement that would look after him, and gently tell him “It’s okay to take off your gas mask.” Come with us.
Osha Neumann is the author of Up Against the Wall MotherF**ker: a Memoir of the 60s with Notes for Next Time. He is a lawyer in Berkeley California who specializes in the civil rights of people who are homeless.
February 4th, 2012 — Occupy
February 1st, 2012 — Excessive Force, Oakland PD, Occupy, Police State
January 30, 2012 at 12:56 am.
This proposal was just passed through the Occupy Oakland General Assembly!
Occupy Oakland has faced heavy police repression since its inception. From the first police raid on October 25th, when the camp was violently destroyed and people were brutally tear gassed and shot with rubber bullets, to the recent targeted snatchings and arrests of the last couple weeks, and finally to the attack on Occupy Oakland in its attempt to move into a vacant building which manifested itself in tear gas, rubber bullets, assault grenades and the mass arrest of up to 400 people last night, Oakland’s Police Department and City Government have made it clear that they will continue to target and repress those in Occupy Oakland in the attempt to squash the movement that challenges their exploitation, and oppression of the people of Oakland and the 99%. Often those arrested have had their charges dropped after spending several days in jail due to lack of evidence. The newest tactic being used by the state is stay away orders, given to those arrested, making it illegal for those arrested to be in the vicinity of Oscar Grant Plaza essentially making it illegal to participate in future Occupy Oakland events. Many of these people have been around since the beginning of occupy and are key organizers for different committees and actions.
While many members of occupy have come to support those arrested at arraignments, picked people up from jail when they were released, called local officials or marched in solidarity with those who have been repressed, Occupy Oakland has yet to have a chance to present our side of the facts in court. Feb 6th will be Occupy Oakland’ s day for that. On this day,
It will be the first time that lawyers working with Occupy will be able to argue against the repressive tactics used by the OPD and present evidence of unlawful activities and arrests.
We the anti repression committee of Occupy Oakland are proposing a day of action in solidarity with those that have been arrested and targeted by the local government and OPD. We will begin the day with coffee not cops at the Wiley Manuel courthouse starting at 9 am, then at noon we will be organizing a rally at OGP with speakers that will address local and state police repression, and the Prison Industrial Complex. At 1pm, we will march to the courthouse to stand in solidarity with those in court at 2pm. This proposal is asking for Occupy Oakland to endorse this action.
Additionally, in light of the massive amounts of arrests last night, we have one more thing to add to this proposal. There will be a day of arraignments that come out of last night’s arrests. We want to have a day of action against police repression on the day of those arraignments as well. This day will be planned with a similar schedule as the day of action on February 6th. This proposal entails that Occupy Oakland endorses that day as well.
We want all of Occupy Oakland to stand in solidarity with those who have been arrested and who have faced any form of police repression. Stand with us on February 6th!
February 1st, 2012 — Oakland PD, Occupy, Police State
Wednesday, February 1, 2012 (SF Gate)
Cognitech, Inc. donates their forensic video enhancement software to the Oakland Police Department in order to assist the Oakland community at large with numerous video footage from the Occupy Oakland protests.
Pasadena, CA (PRWEB) January 31, 2012
Cognitech, Inc. has announced the recent donation of it’s forensic video enhancement Tri-Suite 11 software system to the Oakland Police Department, at the request of the Oakland Law Enforcement, and in the interest of the City of Oakland, CA, community at large with the purpose of forensically enhancing and analyzing video footage from the Occupy Oakland protests in order to find the forensic truth in the recorded incidents/events footage.
The Cognitech, Inc. Tri-Suite 11 software system is comprised of three unique and interoperable software programs, the Video Investigator® software, the VideoActive® software and the AutoMeasure™ software. Cognitech’s Video Investigator tool-set is the first and most comprehensive forensic video/image processing software environment in the world. It has over one hundred proprietary designed, user-friendly plug-ins and facilities that enhance, denoise and deblur, including the ability to a super-resolve zoom of forensic video evidence (e.g. faces, license plates). Cognitech’s VideoActive tool-set is the first real-time forensic video processing software with the world’s only (Cognitech’s U.S. Patent) fully automatic real-time universal de-multiplexing, including real-time track and real-time universal DVR capture. Cognitech VideoActive allows for patented lossless video capture with encoding that doubles video storage, and the ability to perform a video search (e.g. cars and people). Cognitech’s AutoMeasure tool-set is the world’s only automatic forensic photogrammetry software that allows the user to perform accurate bio-metric measurements of a suspect’s dimensions (e.g. height, width, area), including crime and accident scene measurements from video surveillance and photographs. This software is important to the work of police departments as it allows the user to know the suspect’s biometric measurements based on the AutoMeasure calculations which in turn helps the user eliminate and narrow down individuals who might have been considered suspects.
Cognitech, Inc. CEO Dr. Lenny Rudin said, in regards to the donation,
“It is our sincere hope that in donating our forensic video Tri-Suite software
to the Oakland Police Department, we are helping to assist the entire
community through the forensic video enhancement and 3D analysis of
numerous videos that were recorded during the Occupy Oakland, CA protests.
Pictures tell the truth and when enhancing these videos and photos
forensically, unlawful acts will be seen and analyzed clearly and
scientifically, no matter who committed them.”
About Cognitech, Inc.:
In 1988, Cognitech, Inc. was the first company in the world that designed and developed the unique Video Investigator® hardware and software products for professional forensic CCTV video processing and analysis. In 2010, Cognitech, Inc. received the American Technology Award, the highest award given in the United States for Government Technology accomplishment.
Cognitech is the only forensic video company in the world that designs and manufactures both proprietary forensic video acquisition hardware and scientific forensic software. The latest from Cognitech is the Forensic Video Tri-Suite11, the most scientifically advanced and comprehensive forensic video processing and 3D analysis software in the world. Tri-Suite11 is comprised of the Video Investigator® software, the VideoActive® software and the AutoMeasure™ software. Cognitech’s Video Investigator® software, which among other Cognitech proprietary modules contains Cognitech’s patented FrameFusion® SuperResolution and Denoising, is based on state-of-the-art patented algorithms that deliver super fast/Real-Time results. The High Definition video is captured, processed, and super-compactly stored with Cognitech’s revolutionary lossless Cognitech VideoZipper®, Cognitech’s patented proprietary algorithm and codec for lossless video data. Cognitech’s software and hardware products are routinely used by thousands of law enforcement technical forensic investigators in the United States and throughout the world.
For the original version on PRWeb visit:
January 28th, 2012 — Oakland PD, Occupy
January 28th, 2012 — Occupy
January 28, 2012 at 5:34 pm. Posted by Liberate Oakland
A spirited march to the long-closed civic auditorium by Lake Merritt was met by riot police who derailed the first move-in attempt. Move-in assembly after regrouping at Oscar Grant Plaza for dinner and rest break as of 5:30 pm march is on the move in downtown Oakland.Link: Empty Auditorium reveals cities 1% spending priorities
January 28th, 2012 — Excessive Force, Oakland PD, Occupy
OAKLAND (Reuters) – Riot police arrested more than 100 anti-Wall Street protesters during a series of clashes in the streets of Oakland on Saturday that saw officers in riot gear firing tear gas at activists who tried to take over a shuttered convention center.
Three officers were injured during the running confrontations, which police said first erupted when the crowd began destroying construction equipment and tearing down fencing at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center in downtown Oakland in the early afternoon.
“Officers were pelted with bottles, metal pipe, rocks, spray cans, improvised explosive devices and burning flares,” the Oakland Police Department said in a statement. “Oakland Police Department deployed smoke and tear gas.”
The scuffles marked the latest confrontation between police and Occupy activists seeking to regain lost momentum in their movement against economic inequality after authorities cleared protest camps across the country late last year.
Occupy Oakland organizers had vowed to take over the fenced-off building to establish a new headquarters for their movement and draw attention to homelessness in a move seen as a challenge to authorities who have blocked similar efforts before.
Police said 19 people were arrested near the convention center and another 100 taken into custody after they were corralled by officers outside a YMCA in downtown Oakland.
“The one percent have all these empty buildings, and meanwhile there are all these homeless people,” protester Omar Yassin told Reuters at the scene.
Near the convention center, several dozen police officers declared an unlawful assembly and confronted the demonstrators at a fence, firing smoke and tear gas canisters into the crowd after telling protesters to disperse through loudspeakers.
AMERICAN FLAG BURNS
Some activists, carrying shields made of plastic garbage cans and corrugated metal, tried to circumvent the police line, and surged toward police on another side of the building as more smoke canisters were fired.
“The City of Oakland welcomes peaceful forms of assembly and freedom of speech, but acts of violence, property destruction and overnight lodging will not be tolerated,” police said in a statement.
Later, hundreds of demonstrators regrouped and marched through downtown Oakland, where they were repeatedly confronted by police in riot gear. Police at several points fired flash-bang grenades into the crowd and swung batons at protesters.
Later a group of demonstrators made their way to City Hall, where they brought out a U.S. flag and set it on fire before scattering ahead of advancing officers.
Protesters in Oakland loosely affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in New York last year have repeatedly clashed with police during a series of marches and demonstrations.
In October, former U.S. Marine Scott Olsen was left in critical condition with a head injury following a confrontation with police on the streets of Oakland in which tear gas was deployed.
Organizers said Olsen was struck in the head by a tear gas canister. Authorities opened an investigation into that incident but have not said how they believe he was hurt.
Elsewhere, the National Park Service said on Friday it would bar Occupy protesters in the nation’s capital, one of the few big cities where Occupy encampments survive, from camping in two parks where they have been living since October.
That order, which takes effect on Monday, was seen as a blow to one of the highest-profile chapters of the movement.
(Writing by Dan Whitcomb and Mary Slosson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)
January 9th, 2012 — Excessive Force, Oakland PD, Occupy, Police State, Recording police
by Liberate Oakland
January 8, 2012
Re-posted from HellaOccupyOakland.org
On January 7, 2012, Occupy Oakland supporters participated in an “Anti-repression / Fuck the Police” march to the Oakland police station in order to condemn the series of outrageous and violent arrests committed by the Oakland Police Department during the past week. Also referred to as “Occububbles”, the march was attended by people who brought out mini-teepees, blew bubbles, and played drums.
At the police station protesters were met by a large group of police in riot gear. Police began advancing toward the protesters, and, failing to follow their own “use of force” guidelines, gave no warning to disperse before they began beating protesters who could not run away fast enough. It was not until 16 minutes after the OPD began beating protesters that the first dispersal was given.
A medic reported treating one protester with a broken leg, who had also been shot in the face with a “non-lethal” round. A young woman was clubbed. There were reports that a police officer threw a bike at a medic who was giving medical attention to an injured protester. According to police reports, not a single officer was injured. The total number of injured protesters is unknown.
This week, the National Lawyers Guild issued a statement demanding that the Oakland Police and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Departments end harassment of Occupy Oakland protesters. Members of Occupy Oakland call on the city and the DA to release political prisoners who are facing felony charges for “crimes” no more severe than sitting peacefully in a public space.
Tonight’s protest was also called “Film the Police” march. Numerous community citizens livestreamed the protest and confrontation. Livestreamers who tweet as @OakFoSho @punkboyinsf @BellaEiko @Eyeslam and @JeffKloy provided live coverage of the rally, as no mainstream media were present. Livestream viewers numbered in the thousands.
January 5th, 2012 — Berkeley, Berkeley PD, Occupy
On December 22, 2011 Berkeley Police officers began a series of late night raids and provocations on the Berkeley Occupy encampment.
One Berkeley officer, Lt. Reece helped to direct operations against the camp.
Reese is holding a “less-lethal” munition that we believe has the capacity to shoot either bean bag or “ricochet” rounds. These weapons are intended to scatter a violent crowd.
They are not supposed to be fired at waist height or higher. They are not to be fired at close range.
They are potentially lethal weapons and this officer 1) aims at protesters at point blank range 2) aims at individuals attempting to document police activity and 3) he improperly displays these munitions repeatedly.
November 23rd, 2011 — Militarization, Occupy
By arming local police departments with military grade equipment, domestic policing has come to resemble a combat operation with citizens as the enemy.
By Rania Khalek for Alternet, November 22, 2011
On Friday, November 18, a group of UC Davis students staged a sit-in to protect their Occupy encampment from destruction by a horde of riot police. Seated on the ground, the students defensively ducked as Lt. John Pike approached them. They were right to do so: Pike aimed a riot-extinguisher at them, showering the crowd of unarmed students with pepper spray as calmly as if he were watering his garden. A group of officers then proceeded to break up the crowd with batons and arrest them. The video of the incident has since gone viral.
The counterinsurgency-like tactics used to subdue unarmed, peaceful demonstrators at Occupy encampments around the country have left people shocked and appalled at the grotesque treatment of protesters as if they were violent enemy combatants. This dynamic was captured best by a photo published in the News Observer showing machine-gun toting police officers dressed in combat attire, pointing their weapons at unarmed Occupy Chapel Hill demonstrators.
The barrier between military and civilian law enforcement was drawn long ago for good reason. Traditionally, the role of the civilian police force is to maintain the peace and safety of the community while upholding the Constitution. In stark contrast, the military soldier is an agent of war, trained to kill the enemy. But that barrier has been broken down by decades of the relentless war on drugs, and more recently the war on terror. Today civilian law enforcement agencies have access to military-grade equipment designed for heavy combat, essentially blurring the line between soldier and police officer.
When local police departments are armed with military grade equipment, the soldier’s mentality is not far behind. Domestic policing has come to resemble a string of combat operations in a scene that repeats itself every time an Occupy encampment is raided, which raises the question: exactly what type of policing equipment is in the arsenal of law enforcement agencies in America?
The average patrol officer’s belt holds a handgun, pepper spray canister, Taser, handcuffs and baton or nightstick. Multiply that by several hundred, which is the minimum number of police officers deployed to raid a large Occupy encampment, and the amount of firepower is startling. But it doesn’t stop there. Police departments are equipped with much more than is found on the standard on-duty police belt.
Prior to the war on terror, local police departments were on a clear path toward acquiring military weaponry, thanks to several congressional and presidential moves throughout the 1980s and 1990s, which were rooted in the war on drugs. Although the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 prohibits the government from using the military for domestic law enforcement, the tough stance of the drug war led to the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act of 1981. The act directed the military to give local, state and federal law enforcement access to military equipment, research and training for use in the drug war, basically authorizing cooperation between civilian police and the military.
The 1980s saw a series of additional congressional and presidential maneuvers that blurred the line between soldier and police officer, leading to a memorandum of understanding in 1994 between the US Department of Justice and Department of Defense. The agreement authorized the transfer of federal military technology to local police forces, essentially flooding civilian law enforcement with surplus military gear previously reserved for use during wartime.
As a result of equipment sharing, from 1995 to 1997 the Department of Defense handed over 1.2 million military items to law enforcement around the country. Among the giveaways were 3,800 M-16s, 185 M-14s, 73 grenade launchers and 112 armored personnel carriers.
In 1997, an even greater amount of military equipment was passed on to local police departments thanks to the National Defense Authorization Security Act, which created the Law Enforcement Support Program, an agency tasked with accelerating the transfer of military equipment to civilian police departments. By the end of 2005, the new agency facilitated the distribution of $727 million worth of Pentagon equipment to some 17,000 police departments around the country. Among the hand-me-downs were aircraft such as Blackhawk helicopters, nearly 8,000 M-16 rifles, a couple hundred grenade launchers, 8,131 bulletproof helmets and 1,161 pairs of night-vision goggles.
Then came the war on terror, which prompted the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002 under President George W. Bush. With it came the introduction of DHS grants, which are used to purchase policing equipment. While the grants allow law enforcement agencies to stock up on much-needed walkie-talkies and bulletproof vests, they have also led to the purchase of tanks, surveillance towers and even drones for domestic policing.
The police department in Washington County, Minnesota just purchased a 9-ton armored vehicle called the BearCat with a $237,000 DHS grant. The BearCat, which has bullet-resistant windows, gun ports, a battering ram on the front bumper, a tear-gas dispenser and a public address system, is quickly becoming the must-have item of the season. Missouri’s Springfield Police Department’s Special Response Team used a $200,000 DHS grant to purchase a Lenco BearCat G3 in July, but is still excitedly awaiting its arrival. Chief Paul Williams told reporters, “It’s a Humvee on steroids.”
The Vermont State Police are now the proud owners of a BearCat G3 as well. A $189,400 DHS grant, in addition to $65,998 worth of forfeited assets from convicted drug dealers, were used to cover the vehicle’s $255,398 cost. The state police say they plan on sharing it with city and county law enforcement agencies, should they “face an active shooter, high-risk warrant subject, or barricaded suspect.”
It’s not just tanks — or more appropriately, armored personnel vehicles — that police departments are purchasing with DHS grants. Nick Turse recently reported on the mobile watchtower the NYPD has stationed by Zuccotti Park to keep an eye on the occupiers, but the NYPD isn’t the only police department equipped with an eye in the sky. Police in Norman, Oklahoma purchased their very ownSkywatch mobile observation tower, which features a 25-foot-high observation platform that gives officers a birds-eye view of the crowds below.
While the newest models sell for about $96,000, the department found a used military surplus tower available for under $10,000, which they paid for with a DHS grant. According to Captain Mike Praizner, the tower will make its debut appearance on Black Friday in the Sooner Mall parking lot. Praizner told the local NewsOK, “Just its presence in a parking lot will deter thieves,” adding, “You’ll be seeing it a lot throughout the holiday shopping season at Sooner Mall, Ed Noble Parkway or sometimes in Walmart‘s parking lots.” Besides watching over consumers during the holiday shopping season, the Norman police plan on deploying the Skywatch to keep an eye out at big events such as football games and local festivals.
Norman isn’t the first town to patrol from above at local malls. In early 2009, the San Diego Police Department used a $119,000 DHS grant to purchase a Skywatch tower, which was used last year during a department-wide Holiday Watch patrol. From November 26 through January 14, the department towed the 25-foot-high tower around the county to thwart crime at shopping center parking lots.
Although holiday shopping can get out of hand, especially considering the crowds of stampeding consumers that amass hours ahead of Black Friday blowout sales and the amount of merchandise that will potentially be stolen as people stock up on holiday presents, there is something bizarre about the Department of Homeland Security funding shopping mall surveillance towers. After all, DHS is supposed to be allocating funds to boost counterterrorism efforts. Scuffles and thefts in the local Walmart parking lot don’t exactly add up to terrorist threats.
Of course, tanks and watchtowers are children’s toys compared to armed drone technology. In Montgomery County, Texas police have just added a weaponized drone to their arsenal.
The ShadowHawk Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), a $300,000 piece of equipment made by the Texas-based Vanguard Defense Industries, was recently purchased by the Montgomery County, Texas, sheriff’s department with a DHS grant. The 50lb drone, capable of traveling at a top speed of 70mph, can be equipped with stun baton beanbag launchers and an XREP Taser, which is a wireless Taser projectile that can be shot up to 100 feet away to deliver neuromuscular incapacitation, or electric shock, to immobilize its target.
Montgomery County Sheriff Tommy Gage told reporters, “We’re the only sheriff’s office in the state that’s going to have a piece of equipment like this.” Actually, they’re the only department in the country to possess a weaponized drone like the ShadowHawk. Thus far, the ShadowHawk has only been used by the military in Afghanistan and East Africa for counterterrorism operations.
While Gage assured reporters that the drone would not be armed and would only be used to maintain public safety, the ACLU and other civil libertarians remain skeptical. They have raised concerns about the potential for violations of privacy as well as the drone’s ability to be armed.
Montgomery County might be the first and only law enforcement agency equipped with a weaponized military drone, but given the rapid acceleration of militarization of local police department arsenals, it may not be the last.