Big thank you to community advocate and ally Catita Anderson for turning in an amazingly helpful set of notes on this meeting - you made this write-up happen!
Sacramento’s social justice community has spent the better part of the last couple years gritting their teeth and doing their best to stay positive while the Sacramento City Council voted to do the wrong thing, over and over again. With very few exceptions, vote totals ended up being 7-2, with only Katie Valenzuela and Mai Vang ever appearing to have much of a conscience.
Last year was an election year, and three of the old council members got replaced. It was unclear what to expect from all of the newbies, but it seemed for a minute that things might get a little better. After all, it’s hard to get much worse than former Councilmember Jeff Harris, or more slippery and disappointing than former Councilmember Angelique Ashby.
In particular, incoming Councilmember Caity Maple (pictured left) seemed, to many, to be a solid ally. She took a generally social justice oriented stance on various issues during the election, including standing in opposition to Measure O, and most importantly, campaigning openly against the militarization of police. For a number of people, there was hope that this year might finally be the year where everything’s coming up justice.
That hope did not last long.
On January 31st, the Council held a vote on whether or not to approve the Sacramento Police Department’s acquisition of a piece of military equipment called an “Armored Multi-Terrain Loader”, or more commonly a “Rook”. And, wouldn’t you know it, the purchase was approved, with a 7-2 vote. Once again, only Katie Valenzuela and Mai Vang had the courage to oppose police militarization. It's like The Who said back in ‘71: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” (from the appropriately titled "Won't Get Fooled Again").
Council and the cops would have you believe that the "rook" is NOT a tank, and is in fact a perfectly safe and completely necessary "defensive tool"...please see the "rook" below, from the manufacturing website
Some enlightening news articles
The Council meeting was a sadly familiar spectacle to anyone who has been following Sacramento politics, going through all the usual steps.
The cops were called in to give a one-sided presentation on why they so desperately need to purchase this Rook, with no one asked to present any alternative perspective. This lasted about half an hour, and was largely self-serving [insert profanity here]. Some of the more absurd examples have been listed at the end of this article, but the specifics are sort of beside the point, because this entire presentation was a charade intended to give the Council cover as they vote for something which they know is unpopular
Various members of the council used their time to ask the police some extremely leading questions, the answers to which just coincidentally happened to provide the cops even more opportunity to paint this purchase as a Very Important Thing
Passionate members of the community, despite only being allowed to speak in 2 minute chunks of time, gave stirring and moving testimony about just how dangerous it is for the police to be given more military equipment, about the terrible lack of transparency and public input in this process, as well as a myriad of other excellent points
All of these excellent points were ignored by the council, which once again voted 7-2 in favor of doing something shitty. Rinse and repeat
You can take the Rook-specific language out of this list and play it as a really depressing Mad Libs for nearly any important Council meeting from the last couple of years.
The cops and the Council have got their lines down pat, and are perfectly happy to continue co-opting the language of social justice in order to pretend that the bad thing they’re doing is actually secretly a good thing, and the activists are all just too in their feelings to think about it clearly.
It is hard to overstate how incredibly frustrating it is that little seems to have changed. This is, to put it mildly, not a good start for the new council. The good news is that this sort of [insert profanity here] only works by relying on community complacency, by hoping that people who care about social justice will see their apparent powerlessness and simply become depressed and withdraw. Unfortunately for the police, Sacramento isn’t going down without a fight.
The backlash has already been intense, no doubt in part because this vote came immediately on the heels of the very public murder-by-cop of Tyre Nichols (pictured left), a Sacramento resident who had moved to Memphis, where he was killed. Numerous City Councilmembers had attended a vigil for Tyre literally the night before voting to give the cops a new army toy. What a disgustingly cynical and hypocritical thing to do.
The audacity of using Tyre as a shield to protect their public image as they prepare to give a new war machine to the very same institution which is callously oppressing and killing millions of Tyre Nichols’ every single day… Shame on every single one of them
Caity Maple has faced particularly harsh scrutiny for this vote. Surprisingly [sarcasm] people feel that it just hurts worse when the stab in the back comes from someone you thought you knew. She was relentlessly badgered on social media by disappointed former supporters, starting immediately after the council meeting, and has since issued a bad semi-apology and scheduled a town hall to try and explain herself. The social justice community will be present at this meeting, consider joining if you have capacity <3
Additionally, at the February 7th Council meeting the following week, Vice Mayor Eric Guerra shut down the meeting after only an hour (Mayor Steinberg was absent) because the Council was not willing to listen to community opposition to their bad, reckless decision to further militarize Sacramento PD. It seems Guerra didn’t shut them down too well though - he is new at this, I’m sure there’s a learning curve - because the community was right back in there at the February 14th Council meeting, calling them out for both their bad actions as well as their cowardice in avoiding public input.
Now is the time to keep the pressure up! Do not let the city council continue to avoid accountability to the public they supposedly represent. Numerous local organizations are certainly not taking this lying down, and there is always room for more allies in this fight.
Some notable factual issues from the police presentation, if you’re interested:
First off, very important to note, in case you missed it, that the County Sheriff already has a Rook, and is perfectly happy to let Sacramento use it. So even if you buy the police argument that this is a necessary tool, it’s a tool that they already can use!
Lots of people have wasted time nitpicking about whether or not the Rook qualifies as a “tank” or not, but let's be very clear: the Rook is an armored military vehicle intended to keep soldiers safe as they perform military operations; the exact name is irrelevant. Additionally, the idea that the lack of a built-in massive gun makes this thing defensive in nature is patently absurd. Per the manufacturer’s website description of the armored platform attachment: “The ADP provides room for up to four fully-dressed officers and is equipped with two locking gun ports, four 5” x 9” sliding gun ports, four bullet proof glass sight ports, and 2 wireless video cameras”. The battering ram attachment is also purely offensive in nature; breaking down a door is not a defensive move, simple as that, not to mention that it comes with a pepper spray dispenser at the end of it
The police use of the phrase “less lethal” is just a textbook example of Orwellian propaganda. It allows them to pitch horrific enforcement tools as somehow being examples of “reform”. Yes, it is technically correct that the armored platform which elevates the police and their guns to an optimal vantage point is “less lethal” than the actual guns that the police are holding as they ride the armored platform. Is this a meaningful distinction? Don’t think so
Another classic example of someone co-opting social justice language was when, in an attempt to justify why this sort of vehicle is actually necessary, Chief Lester stated that the Sacramento police were fined by OSHA in 2018 because they failed to provide their officers with proper ballistic protection. We don't even have anything snarky to say, it's just too absurd.
One especially chilling moment was when Chief Lester was listing off times the Rook has come in handy in the past, and casually dropped a reference to a very recent case in which female members of the Sacramento City Council were being stalked by a particular individual, and the police ended up arresting him. Perhaps I’m biased but it certainly came across as a classic Mafia-style intimidation tactic. She didn’t quite say “be a shame if something happened to them” but that was certainly the vibe. Oh and also, just small fact-checking: the Rook was not used in that particular case. Somehow Lester forgot to mention that…