The Anti-Police Terror Project advocacy group returned to Emeryville on Sunday December 13th. APTP held a public forum at the National Union of Healthcare Workers Hall on Christie with an agenda focused on drawing awareness to the perceived “militarization” of our local police forces and the EPD’s use of AR-15 rifles after the officer-involved shooting of Yuvette Henderson. “This public forum will examine the militarization of local police departments and the implications for public safety, inspired by the murder of Yuvette Henderson by the Emeryville Police Department.”
Yuvette was shot & killed in front of the ExtraSpace Storage Facility after an incident at Home Depot back on February 3rd. Henderson was alleged to be in possession of a handgun prior to being shot by Emeryville officers as noted by Home Depot Security, independent witnesses and the Emeryville and Oakland PD. A revolver was recovered at the scene. Video Surveillance was either unavailable or inconclusive of any negligence. The Family of Yuvette, being represented by Oakland civil rights attorney Dan Siegel, has since filed a civil suite against the City of Emeryville.
Spearheaded by APTP co-founder Cat Brooks (above), the meeting also included guest speakers from other advocacy groups including SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), Stop Urban Shield Coalition & the Arab Resource and Organizing Center. The Facebook event titled Emeryville Police with AR-15s: Are We Safer? – A Public Forum described the event as such:
This public forum will examine the militarization of local police departments and the implications for public safety, inspired by the murder of Yuvette Henderson by the Emeryville Police Department. Yuvette was gunned down on February 2nd after being confronted by a security guard at Home Depot for alleged shoplifting. She died in a hail of gunfire by Emeryville police armed with AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifles.
Since that day, many in our community have asked – why does a small police department, patrolling a community of less than 11,000, need military-grade assault weapons? Are the people of Emeryville any safer because of it?
We’ll also explore the ways that agencies like the Pentagon have played a role in accelerating the militarization of local police departments, as well as the direct connection between the Oakland Police Department and the Israeli Defense Force. Policy experts and local activists will examine the impact of coordination between police and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Latino communities.
The ninety-five minute meeting included some interesting history of the weapon’s transition from its military roots to its civilian grade counterpart. Speakers went over other connections and factors that they say are contributing to this “militarization”. Some impassioned speakers told their accounts of police interactions and strategized how they could push their agenda forward. After the forum, those in attendance broke up into smaller groups assigned to writing our five councilpeople. APTP did not seem aware that Emeryville is not broken up into districts like neighboring cities (I highly recommend watching the video yourself and drawing your own conclusions).
Of the estimated 80 people in attendance, only six identified themselves as Emeryville residents along with Councilpersons Nora Davis and Scott Donahue. One of those in attendance that identified themselves as an Emeryville resident was Tattler editor and RULE founding member Brian Donahue. Donahue explained to the mostly insular group they were in essence preaching to the choir and needed to bring the conversation to Council if they were going to get anywhere with it.
A Big Challenge for Police Chief Tejada
Donahue vowed to do “everything within his power” to bring the discussion to City Hall and he followed this up at the most recent Council meeting by using public comment to challenge New EPD Police Chief Jennifer Tejada. Donahue chastised Tejada for not being present at the meeting after being invited despite her stated commitment to community policing. “The Community wants to tell her something very critical and important about the Police Department and she’s not willing to listen”.
“We’re here to serve the people of Emeryville and the people of Emeryville certainly have demonstrated year, after year, after year overwhelming support for the police of Emeryville” stated Councilmember Nora Davis at the end of the same council meeting. Davis noted her observations of the lack of actual Emeryville community members at the implied “community” meeting. “I would hate to see anything develop that would undercut that trust that the people of this city have in the police department.”
Tejada has publicly defended her force’s ownership of the weapons which were acquired under the leadership of previous Chief Ken James. “We don’t have any military grade weapons” she noted in this recent interview with The E’ville Eye. “I believe we equip our officers with the tools they need to address the threats that we know exist in the community and in their day-to-day patrols. This is a more violent time. There are guns on the street.”
It’s unclear if the “demilitarization” discussion by the APTP is gathering any momentum among actual Emeryville residents. With about an 80+ percentile citizen approval rating of the EPD, APTP seems to have a large hurdle to clear in convincing the public that the EPD are the problem. Emeryville simply does not have the same friction or history as neighboring Oakland PD does with its community. Officer-involved shooting in Emeryville are a rarity with only three in the past 40 years. It just doesn’t seem they have the track record of being “trigger happy” or systemic racial profiling the way other local forces have been portrayed. The officers involved in Henderson’s shooting were African-American and a Female.
In addition, Emeryville is consistently among the top most violent bay area cities in the annual FBI list (largely fueled by our high auto burglary and petty theft numbers) and public safety remains a high priority amongst residents. Neighboring Oakland is consistently on top of that list and in 2014 was number two in the nation. As stated before, Emeryville is not exactly Mayberry.
AR-15 “Assault Rifles” and “Militarization”
The term “Assault rifle” is a politically charged term and one that has a fair amount of ambiguity to it. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban, passed into law by President Bill Clinton but expired under the Bush Administration, helped introduce the term into our vernacular. The law explicitly banned “Assault Weapons” including AR-15’s according to Wikipedia. Other sources claim the word has no technical meaning and varies among regulating jurisdictions.
The discussion of “militarization” is an important and valid one amid revelations that Bay Area forces have acquired $14 million dollars worth of decommissioned military equipment. Initiatives like the DOD’s 1033 program and the Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Areas Security Initiative have enabled the acquisition of decommissioned military equipment like grenade launchers & armored vehicles (None of which the EPD reportedly have) purportedly to fight domestic terrorism.
The Colt manufactured AR-15 has a MSRP of $999.
Citizens can currently legally buy the “assault style” weapons and can be easily modified to be illegal with kits that enable features like detachable magazines. In fact the recent Umpqua, Aurora, Sandy Hook and San Bernardino tragedies all involved AR-15 variations (they have a disturbing reputation as the weapon of choice in mass shootings). Emeryville is not the only police jurisdiction in the Bay Area that employs AR-15’s. In fact the town of Mountain View (not on any “most violent cities” list), recently acquired twenty of them from through a federal program.
It seems logical if we’re going to restrict police officers from possessing them, we might also consider restricting the public from owning them. If we repeal the use of AR-15’s by our cops, what weapons should be acceptable? AR-15’s are said to offer distance accuracy over handguns and shotguns. Public Gun control initiatives such as stricter background checks have an overall high approval rating among the public especially in California but any meaningful action seems to get stalled by powerful lobbying groups like the NRA.
There are already more guns in circulation in the U.S. than there are people so any meaningful legislation could take decades to make an impact on America’s Gun Violence epidemic. Every day, 297 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides & suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention. Of the 89 people on average who die from gun violence daily, only about 1% are from police interventions (Source: BradyCampaign.org). Police agencies are being continually relied on to solve America’s social problems (homelessness, drug use and mental illness) and it might be time to outline a new strategy.
The included video of the meeting is courtesy of Ken Bukowski’s Regional Video YouTube channel.
Further Reading & Resources
Rise of the Warrior Cop | WSJ.com
Bay Area police departments got millions in military surplus, records show | MercuryNews.com
FBI Crime Report Identifies Emeryville As 2nd Most Dangerous City In Bay Area | CBSLocal.com
Policing in America – What the cops say | The Economist