From the community | De-militarize the police

May 31, 2022, 11:48 p.m.

Abolish Stanford is an autonomous formation fighting for police abolition and total liberation at Stanford University and across the peninsula. Through direct action, county-level advocacy, political education and base-building, we are committed to defunding the police and reinvesting resources towards community and institutions that actually keep us safe. The group’s members have asked to remain anonymous for fear of university retaliation.

On Thursday, March 26, the Santa Clara County Community Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring Committee (CCLEM) met to consider recommendations relating to the Sheriff’s Office Military Equipment Use Policy. Under Assembly Bill 481, law enforcement agencies are required to receive approval from their local governing body for the acquisition and continued use of military equipment. Among the military items and uses that the Sheriff’s Office wants approved are: continued use of 280 Colt AR-15 and other assault and sniper rifles, a new $465,000 robot (on top of the three robots already in inventory) and unrestricted use of “less lethal” (i.e. rubber bullets) and chemical munitions, according to the meeting agenda. This list does not include the inventory within the Stanford University Department of Public Safety’s (SUDPS) possession. According to the agenda, SUDPS alone has 32 Colt AR-15 rifles and eight Defense Technology 40mm Launchers for “less lethal” munitions, among other items. 

As the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) pointed out during the meeting, these types of militarized equipment do not keep communities safe: they exacerbate the threat posed to Black and Brown communities due to already existing disparities in policing, and they do not keep communities safe. Studies show that they fail to reduce crime and/or attacks on police, but that they do increase the amount of violence communities face at the hands of police. 

The AFSC also pointed out that the Sheriff’s Office proposed Military Equipment Use Policy violates state and county law. Assembly Bill 48 prohibits the use of kinetic energy projectiles (i.e. “less lethal” munitions) and chemical agents to disperse any assembly, protest or demonstration except under very specific circumstances (such as threat to life or of severe bodily injury). And perhaps most importantly, the Military Equipment Use Policy places few to no restrictions on its use of militarized equipment. There are no explicit prohibitions on use of any of these items, nor are there real limitations (most uses are defined as “including, but not limited to”). 

Despite these deficiencies and community concerns, the Sheriff’s Office argued that this military equipment is needed to respond to incidents like the 2021 VTA shooting in San Jose. Indeed, police often invoke mass shootings as a justification for their militarization, as well as their very existence. Unfortunately, in the past few weeks, we’ve seen multiple times just how empty the promise of safety through militarized police forces truly is. In Uvalde, TX, a gunman killed 19 children and two adults at a local elementary school. It’s difficult to imagine a more disastrous police response: the gunman was inside the school for around 80 minutes, roughly 50 of which involved 19 police officers waiting inside a school hallway, refusing to confront the lone gunman. Federal marshals and Uvalde Police Department officers reserved their violence for family members urging action: one woman was briefly handcuffed, a father was thrown to the ground by an officer, another was pepper-sprayed and another was tasered. Meanwhile, students trapped inside made at least seven 911 calls begging police — who they could hear right outside — for help. Ultimately, it took a separate law enforcement agency receiving a key from a school janitor before the gunman was killed and children were able to leave.

The knee-jerk response to tragedies like this is to call for more police funding. But that would make a mockery of the people who lost loved ones in recent weeks in the face of police incompetence. Uvalde spends 40% of its budget on police and has more than doubled the amount it spends on school policing since 2017, from roughly $200,000 to $435,000. In Buffalo, NY, a 911 dispatcher hung up the phone on an employee trapped in the grocery store attacked by a white supremacist gunman. New York City increased the amount of law enforcement dedicated to the subway system by 250 officers last May, only for the NYPD to fail to prevent the attack or apprehend the gunman. 

We have decades’ worth of similar examples of police failure in the context of mass shootings. We also know that in the two years since George Floyd was murdered, police have gone to kill over 2,000 more people, or about three people per day. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are living in a death cult, in no small part due to this country’s obsession with police. As writer, lawyer and activist Derecka Purnell writes in “Becoming Abolitionists,” “[S]tructural violence, like militarism and policing, can create and shape interpersonal violence, like assaults, murders and mass shootings . . . . Plainly put, when the federal government uses law enforcement and the military to control concentrated wealth, property and natural resources, they condition everyday people to accept the violence, replicate it or rebel against it.” We must be among those who rebel against it. 

We must work to end policing, war and militarization here and around the globe. And there’s plenty we can do locally to be part of this struggle: 

  • You can join us for a conversation with Derecka Purnell and Professor Matthew Clair on June 1 at 12:00 PM. We’re co-hosting it with members of the Care First, Jail Last coalition, which has been fighting for over a year against construction of a new county jail, and we’ll include more information about the campaign as well as ways to get involved.
  • You can join us at the June 28 Board of Supervisors meeting to protest the Sheriff’s Military Equipment Use Policy. Overwhelming evidence from research and recent events shows that we are not safer with 32 AR-15s on campus, especially in light of SUDPS’s documented racial profiling practices. Follow us @abolishstanford on Instagram and Twitter for updates and fill out this interest form to join us in strategizing and mobilizing for the June 28th meeting. 
  • Join an organization explicitly committed to the defunding, dismantling and total abolition of the carceral state.

A better world is possible, but not while the state increases its investment in death and destruction, at the expense of community resources and care. We cannot allow these recent, devastating tragedies to be used as an excuse to expand the militarized police state. We need abolition now.

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