Since the June 3 Black Lives Matter protest in San Mateo, the county sheriff, the city police department, and now the San Mateo Police Officers’ Association have all issued statements about their response. But something is conspicuously absent from these statements: an admission of any mistakes.
While elected officials and residents at the protest were aghast at the presence of riot officers brandishing batons, tear gas dispensers and rubber bullet guns, the statements emphasized the helmets officers wore. When one of our county’s small number of black elected officials said: “There have been very few times where I have been so afraid for my life, and never a time when I have been so afraid for the life of my daughter,” the statements claimed that what happened was a “standard and appropriate practice” and that the equipment used was “industry standard.”
There is a reasonable role for police at protests, primarily keeping protesters safe. Closing down streets, for instance, reduces the chances that a vehicle will push into a crowd, as has happened elsewhere. And at both the San Mateo and Redwood City protests, witnesses spotted gun-toting individuals who were not part of the protest.
Officers wearing helmets is fine and reasonable. But there is no reason that officers should be displaying riot guns and batons to peaceful protesters; if that is “standard and appropriate practice,” then the standards are wrong. Our county Board of Supervisors and city councils need to ask much tougher questions about the departments they fund.