(Cal logo added)
Update (7/6/12): UC Berkeley, along with the Berkeley and Alameda Police Departments, has decided not to purchase the tank after all. So that's good; now to get UCPD off campus...
From Inter Press Service:
The University of California, Berkeley police department is using grant funds from the Department of Homeland Security to purchase a Lenco Ballistic Engineered Armoured Response Counter Attack Truck, better known as BearCat. The university will share the BearCat with police from Berkeley and the neighbouring city of Albany, where it will house the vehicle.
Purchasing the vehicle was raised at a Berkeley City Council meeting as part of a larger discussion on the city’s relationship to Homeland Security agencies that award grants and collect information on citizens.
Because the vehicle is being purchased by the university, and not a city governed by elected bodies, and because no matching funds were required – which the council would have had to approve – the Berkeley police department was not required to disclose the grant application.
Berkeley citizens found out about it only when the watchdog organisation, Berkeley Copwatch, discovered the project as a result of a Public Records Act request for general information on police equipment, according to Andrea Prichett of Copwatch.
These armoured vehicles are part of “an alarming increase in militarisation” of the police, said Norm Stamper, former Seattle police chief and author of Breaking Rank: A Top Cop’s Exposé of the Dark Side of American Policing.
Stamper explained in a phone interview that, in addition to 9/11, the war on drugs has fuelled the drive toward police militarisation, exacerbating conflict between those targeted – people of color, youth and the poor – and law enforcement.
Once targeted, these communities become the enemy. “We start adding the military nomenclature and the military equipment and military tactics and strategies, and we find SWAT units hitting the house of somebody suspected of having half a bag of marijuana,” he said.
Locally, police militarisation was evident at the Nov. 9, 2011 Occupy Cal demonstration at UC Berkeley, where combat-gear clad police injured peaceful protesters with baton strikes, and on Oct. 25, 2011 in Oakland, when similarly armed police nearly killed a young former Marine when they fired a tear-gas canister that hit him in the head.
“There’s this mistaken belief, that if we harden the image of the police officers, that will give the forces of law and order more legitimacy,” Stamper said. “What it does, I think, is precisely the opposite.”
When police carry weapons and use chemical agents on non-violent demonstrators, they “appear to be the repressive arm of an oppressive establishment”, Stamper explained. An armoured personnel carrier would serve to reinforce that impression.