Owen Lavine is a journalism sophomore and Mustang News opinion columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
The San Luis Obispo city council are lap dogs for the military industrial complex and police department (SLOPD). In a striking unanimous vote on April 19, the city council decided to reimplement Policy 709 which “provide(s) guidelines for the approval, acquisition, funding and reporting requirements regarding military equipment.”
In sum, SLOPD can purchase military equipment that will inevitably be used against us, their citizens.
At a glance, the Policy 709 Handbook details the various pieces of military equipment that the SLOPD is requesting to use. Repeatedly, they disguised the barbaric nature of these weapons by referring to them as “tools.” Such “tools” included tear gas (a chemical weapon banned by the Geneva Convention), .50-caliber armor-piercing sniper rifles, pepper balls and more.
“Why?” Ethan Gutterman, an impassioned activist, asked of the city council and Police Chief Rick Scott a like.
In short, Scott warned there are many “high value targets” in the city of San Luis Obispo, such as Cal Poly itself and the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Reactor (which is albeit not in the city of San Luis Obispo). This is mirror rhetoric deployed after the September 11, 2001 attacks from law enforcement agencies — all of a sudden, we need to be prepared for every possible one-in-a-billion terrorist attack.
Police departments routinely request the use of military equipment and qualify their “need” for this equipment by citing the most extreme of hypotheticals, (an attack on Diablo Canyon for example) yet in practice this equipment is far and away more likely to be used on the civilian population.
Regardless, the SLOPD is not the one who is in the position to decide whether policy 709 gets passed. That’s at the discretion of the city council.
About five hours into the April 19 meeting, councilmember Jan Marx asked if SLOPD would be purchasing anything not included in the policy 709 handbook.
“We are not going to buy anything that’s not on this list,” Scott said.
Only 20 minutes later, after activists rebuked the notion that we needed to buy ANY military equipment, Vice Mayor Caryln Christianson, either ignorant of the policy or intentionally trying to mislead the public explained: “I do think there’s a little confusion that we are not authorizing any money to buy anything. We are doing this because it’s required by state law that the department lists all its property.”
In the most charitable interpretation of her statement, Christianson must’ve misheard Scott’s answer to Marx’s question. Even if that were true, politicians should not be holding office if they can’t hear correctly when voting on sensitive issues such as this one.
Like clockwork, after Christianson delivered her retort, the rest of the city council, including Mayor Erica Stewart, began parroting the same fictitious line of reasoning that Christianson employed.
It seemed like a fever dream. I couldn’t imagine in the quaint, “democratic” San Luis Obispo, that the city council would roll over like the lap dogs they are to the fascistic police department. To add insult to injury, they used this as an opportunity to gaslight and demean local activists by falsely claiming the sole purpose of passing this bill was to “provide transparency” as to what military equipment SLOPD has. What they are really doing is putting a stamp of approval on the militarization of our police.
It became even more disgraceful when city council members began invoking their experiences being tear gassed as some sort of right-of-passage for them to vote in favor of this measure.
Nationwide, the effects of a militarized police were best demonstrated during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Police department after police department exhibited wanton abuse of and disregard for guidelines on the use of military equipment, such as tear gas, “non-lethal” bullets (rubber bullets), bean-bag shotguns, etc.
According to a study done by BMC Public Health following the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, “data from real-world civilian exposures have documented (i) severe dermal, cardiopulmonary, ocular, and neurological injuries, (ii) permanent disabilities (e.g., blindness, loss of limbs), and even (iii) death due to respiratory arrest [as a result of exposure to tear gas].”
However, beyond the direct impacts of military equipment being used on civilians, the economic impacts are far greater.
Combined, the budgets of all U.S. police departments in 2019 topped $123 billion, putting U.S. police department’s total budgets larger than that of every world military aside from the Chinese and the U.S. This exorbitant budget comes at the expense of social programs, housing, public works and other city programs, which in turn creates more crime.
This information is totally ignored by the San Luis Obispo city council and city councils across the nation — as a result, and to no one’s surprise, crime and economic insecurity continues to grow.
I encourage anyone who is registered to vote in the city of San Luis Obispo to abstain from ever giving Erica Steward, Carlyn Christianson, Andy Pease, Jan Marx or Michelle Shoresman, your vote. The five phlegmatics rule from their ivory towers, giving special privileges to their private military –– the SLOPD –– to ascend on protestors and the civilian population of SLO with unrelenting force.