While Oakland has quietly been gearing up for Urban Shield, a police and first responder training, the nation has been captivated by a discourse of police brutality, racial profiling and safety. A string of unarmed men of color shot and killed by police has sparked protests and solidarity movements from Oakland to Ferguson and from Los Angeles to Gaza. These are matters of life and death, matters of community cohesion and issues which center around people's very essence their skin, ethnicity and bone.
For most of us in the United States we are born into a society which relies on armed policing and prisons as a way of dealing with 'crime' and promoting 'safety'. But these aren't the only means of accountability and safety. What it safety? What makes us feel safe in our communities? For many people, police are who we turn to for safety but there is a growing number of community members for whom police don't equal safety. For many, traumatic experiences and traumatizing stories like those out of Ferguson, Missouri; Los Angeles, California; and our home base Oakland, California are reason enough to leave any level headed young person of color in fear of the police.
As protesters took to the streets in many cities across the nation, so have police. And in numerous instances police have showed up looking a lot more like an army than 'peace officers'. Reminiscent of the harsh police crackdown during the occupy movement here in Oakland, police squared off with protesters in riot gear, with sound weapons, large guns and in some cases even tanks. The 'militarization of police' is a phrase that has been used to explain this continuing phenomenon. One success of these protests is that they have shined a spotlight on U.S. law which provides for police to have 'surplus' military products for free with the proviso that a report is given showing that this equipment is utilized within a certain amount of time. What this does is it actually forces police to use military weapons and devices on the public, community members, retired military, grandmas and children. This is only one example of policy that supports increased 'militarization' of police. Urban Shield comes out of another such policy in which federal moneys are directed towards the military training of regional police. While many go as far as to argue that our military shouldn't use these weapons on anyone at all, there are some folks who believe it is legitimate to use these weapons and tactics on our own population.
Safety is important, no doubt. And our communities do have poverty, crime and violence. But who was being protected from Mike Brown? And who feels safe in Ferguson? Who profits from the manufacturing of 'surplus' military equipment? Who is served by the killing of Allen Blueford? What safety or justice was restored when San Francisco Police shot by Kenneth Harding Jr?
These are tough questions which provoke the critical thinking about policing which many of us have not yet done. Great Prison Culture and Policing Curriculum. Its ok to end up with whatever answers feel true for you, the important part is that we practice this critical thinking around policing and safety. When many of us grow up with unchecked assumptions about community safety and policing. The linked curriculum we share with excitement because of its timeliness, relevance, and impact. We appreciate the humble and fair questions this curriculum begins with which can lead to fruitful discussions. Talking about ferguson and police brutality has been banned at some schools, who benefits from that?
-Maya Salsedo, Planting Justice Educator