The police crackdown on protesters in Ferguson, MO shocked the nation, and the political consequences are beginning to take hold. Two weeks ago, the Davis, CA Police Department received a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle through the Department of Defense’s surplus military equipment program. However, residents of Davis, a city near Sacramento, responded with widespread protest, circulating a petition demanding that officials get rid of the tank-like armored truck that was built to sustain blasts from improvised explosive devices and mines on faraway battlefields in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. CBS Sacramento is reporting that the Davis City Council passed a resolution last Tuesday ordering police to get rid of the vehicle within 60 days, citing concerns that it could be used against peaceful protesters.
Davis Police Chief Landry Black pushed back, saying that the department might need the MRAP, considering the fact that police have seized high-powered weapons from suspects in the past. Robb Davis parried in a powerful speech that can be seen in the above-embedded video, saying, “This symbolizes the most destructive force on the planet which is the US military. I think we have to acknowledge that.” He also said to Chief Landry Black, “I appreciate the trust that you’ve built in this community… this will hurt it.”
Citizens’ concerns over civil rights won the day, as Tuesday’s council meeting was packed with protesters who demanded that the military vehicle be given away or destroyed as soon as possible. Local residents gathered 299 signatures on their petition expressing opposition to the MRAP being used by police in Davis.
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis acknowledged that the city does need to be prepared for events like mass shootings, but said, “I don’t think there’s going to be a scenario by which this vehicle will be acceptable to me or to this community.” He proposed a motion “that we look at the solutions [to mass shootings] that do not represent repurposing of a military vehicle to face them and we hold public participatory forums to publicly share ideas on the options.”
Councilman Brett Lee was the only member of the body to vote against the resolution, saying, according to Davis Vanguard, “To just return it, without actually having had [a discussion on whether or not the vehicle is necessary]… if we return it, then we don’t have the ability to get it back. Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Davis Mayor Dan Wolk expressed concerns that acquiring the MRAP sends the wrong message to the community following an embarrassing 2011 incident, captured in a photo which became a viral internet meme, in which a UC Davis police officer pepper sprayed seated Occupy Wall Street protesters. He referred to the pepper spray fiasco as “an overreaction by the police and law enforcement.”
Local activists are hailing the vote as a victory for civil liberties and a first step in fighting back against police militarization. However, protesters plan to continue to pressure the council to make sure that the MRAP is disposed of within the agreed-upon 60-day period.