April 9, 2015

Peace and Freedom fights Militarization of Santa Cruz

By Mark Wachtler

April 9, 2015. Santa Cruz, CA. (ONN) The California Peace and Freedom Party waged an organized effort to challenge the city of Santa Cruz over its announced acquisition of an armored military assault vehicle. In December, the city council voted to buy the vehicle with a quarter million dollar grant from the Dept of Homeland Security. Two weeks ago, both sides of the controversy packed the council chambers for a final debate and vote.

Opponents of the Santa Cruz armed assault vehicle pack the city council chambers. Image courtesy of IndyBay.org.

On December 9th, the Santa Cruz City Council voted to accept a $251,293 grant from the Department of Homeland Security to militarize its police department. Unlike many municipalities that simply accept surplus military vehicles and armaments left over from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, this ordinance authorizes the spending of a quarter-million dollars to purchase a brand new armored vehicle for the city’s police force.

Opposition mounts

When the city of Santa Cruz announced it would hold hearings at a March 24 city council meeting, activists opposed to the militarization of the local police organized their forces. On March 22, two days before the hearing and council vote on an alternative ordinance, the Santa Cruz Peace and Freedom Party sent and published an open letter to the city council.

‘The Santa Cruz County Peace and Freedom Party opposes the purchase of the Lenco BEARCAT agreed to by the Santa Cruz City Council at their December 9th meeting,’ the open letter begins, ‘We have followed developments closely since that time and find that the situation has not changed enough either in the potential for military use or in procedures for military acquisitions by a city department.’

The statement was penned by the Santa Cruz County Peace & Freedom Party Chair Maureen Smith. The second section of the Party’s letter illustrates that the socialist left doesn’t like government tyrannies any more than the Constitutional right. Smith could have been speaking for any of America’s opposition political parties when she said made the following statement to the City Council.

“Because we have witnessed the eroding of the United States Constitution over the past 20 years, on a national scale the California Peace and Freedom Party calls for the abolition of the Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, the War on Drugs, and the War on Terror,” the Peace and Freedom County Chair said, “The passage of the National Defense Authorization Act in 2012 threatens every American citizen with being whisked away in the middle of the night to an undisclosed location and held indefinitely without contact with a lawyer, family, or friends. Several people who signed a petition against the BEARCAT brought up their perception that the US is headed for Martial Law as their rights under the Constitution are disappearing. People see a relationship between military equipment, Martial Law and their own safety.”

Police supporters come out

As detailed by the local Santa Cruz Sentinel, the open council meeting wasn’t without supporters from both sides of the issue. Standing in opposition to the anti-militarization crowd were dozens of police officers and their family members. At issue was an alternative ordinance that would reject the offensive attack vehicle and substitute an unarmed defensive armored vehicle in its place.

The police supporters insisted the armored military vehicle already authorized is for safety and defensive purposes only. Leading the fight was Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel. “We’ve heard a lot about the militarization of police during the discussion of the BearCat,” he told the city council, “Militarization is all about attitude, mind-set and behavior. It’s not about the tools that we need to keep our community safe.”

The Police Chief promised the armored assault vehicle wouldn’t be used against peaceful protests, but instead to transport first responders and citizens out of harm’s way during various emergencies. But he confirmed that that military vehicle will have gun mounts and gun slots. Also testifying was a Santa Cruz County Prosecutor whose sister and brother in-law are both police officers. She insisted the armored vehicle was little more than, “a bulletproof vest on wheels.”

At the conclusion of the community’s comments, the Santa Cruz City Council voted on the alternative measure to reject the armed military vehicle and instead purchase an armored vehicle without offensive capabilities. The ordinance lost in the face of opposition by the city’s Mayor, Police Chief and most of the council members.

For more information, visit the Peace and Freedom Party.



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