It’s doubtful that the BearCat needs any introduction at this point, but those few uninitiated might best be brought up to speed by Keene’s own Mayor Kendall Lane (councilman at the time of the quote), who was overheard expressing excitement to a colleague that “we’re going to have our own tank.”
One should note that “we” refers to the city government, specifically KPD. It’s also a safe bet that Mayor Lane wishes the mic had never picked that one up, as his elation provides nigh-limitless argumentative ammo to those Keene residents standing in vocal opposition to police militarization.
With the utterance immortalized on YouTube, there’s little revisionist backpedaling to be achieved, though you can’t fault the authorities for trying.
It’s true that, technically speaking, the “armored personnel vehicle” in question might not qualify as a tank, but it serves much the same symbolic function. Proponents insist that the BearCat’s principal purpose is an anti-terrorist one, but this is just a flimsy smokescreen: it’s plainly about public intimidation, whether the targets be rowdy Pumpkinfesters or peaceful political protesters.
Lenco sales manager Jim Massery cites such likely scenarios as “terrorists shooting up a shopping mall in Keene” (do we even have one of those?) to justify the city’s purchase, but anyone who takes this notion seriously is probably too busy going into cardiac arrest from the sight of his own shadow to form a credible standpoint on the proper role of local government.
You’d have to do some serious logical contortions to dream up an attack strategy where Keene, N.H. even peripherally factors in (“they hate our pumpkins!”), but that’s alright – it’s doubtful that Mr. Massery believes any of his own rhetoric anyway. Military-industrial types do tend to be more concerned with lining their pockets than trafficking in such a decidedly non-lucrative commodity as common sense.
That many of Keene’s citizens refuse to be swayed by blatant fearmongering is a reassuring indication that post-9/11 reactionism has lost at least some of its grip on mass consciousness over the years. Less inspiring is news that other towns around the country have undergone similar institution of proto-martial law without a peep from residents. Forgive the cliché, but I’ve just got to pull out the Ben Franklin card and re-assert the truism that “those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither.”
And here’s the kicker: in this particular instance, you don’t even get any safety out of the deal. Giving this equipment to local police necessitates nothing less than a full reversal of power dynamics between cops and the public. Remember that business where they’re supposed to be the ones serving us? Thing of the past, that.
Color me alarmist, but this is a slippery slope; the more firepower we grant our supposed protectors, the greater their ability to use it in myriad brutal, unjustified ways. Contrary to Mr. Massery’s characterization of BearCat opposers, I hold no enmity towards cops, and I do value their lives as I value all life. But it’s crucial to keep in mind that individuals are molded by the power structures they inhabit, and overabundant power directed toward a single locus inevitably paves the way for totalitarian corruption.
And anyway, aren’t there more pressing issues to be addressed?
It’s a distressing sign of the times when our government chooses to allocate nearly $300,000 in taxpayer money to the consolidation of its own authority when, for instance, our educational system is in shambles, countless people continue to suffer from economic woes, and (to harp once again on a pet peeve) non-violent drug offenders continue to be incarcerated in the absence of meaningful reform.
That those in office are more concerned with protecting your God-given right to pack heat on campus as well as their ability to threaten you with even hotter heat (and get as gleeful about it as a kid in a toy store, to boot) should ring major alarm bells.
As I write this, it’s looking like KPD stands in a good position to acquire its new toy. The first step on the way to reform, though, is speaking out, and Keene certainly has not accepted this imposition quietly.
Justin Levesque can be contacted at