No funds for tasers or war criminals: Stop state violence in San Francisco and Congo

by Ann Garrison

On Wednesday, Feb. 23, I attended a San Francisco Police Commission hearing to oppose arming the San Francisco Police with tasers as well as handguns. I’ve come to question the point of attending hearings like this because, for one, my side inevitably loses, whether it’s about the Blue Angels, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and the Lennar Corp. in the Hunters’ Point Shipyard, San Francisco’s next mayor, or even a Board of Supervisors’ resolution about the latest uproar at KPFA Radio, the Bay Area’s Pacifica Radio station.

It often seems to me that we show up at City Hall hearings like this simply to help create facades of public process for boards and commissions that strike political deals or otherwise make up their minds long before the hearing starts.

I’ve therefore sworn I’d never again appear at one, but – never say never – I showed up last Wednesday after so many of the people I most admire in San Francisco urged attendance. Supervisor John Avalos offered his office to accommodate the overflow crowd, and I enjoyed the company, especially that of Sabrina Jacobs, who produced this report for KPFA News:

Once again, and as always, every time I’ve been to City Hall, I was on the losing side. Commissioner Petra DeJesus, who cast the sole vote against more taser studies, said that no matter how they reworded what they were voting on, they were still voting to proceed toward taser use. Bob Offer-Westort, civil rights organizer for San Francisco’s Coalition on Homelessness, thought that those who attended the meeting had managed, at least, to buy time to organize.

And I at least felt honored to be among the crowd of doctors, lawyers, social workers, organizers and activists who came to speak against taser use. Many had so much relevant experience and/or expertise that I found myself wondering what I could possibly add, but by the time I got a turn at the mike, the Western regional representative for Amnesty International, Rini Chakraborty, had helped me find a few words by telling the commissioners that Amnesty considers tasers a form of torture:

“I’m Ann Garrison, a long term resident, a District 8 voter, a journalist. In recent years I’ve cultivated expertise in U.S. interventions and involvements in East/Central Africa: Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Sudan. I’m here in part because these are my friends in the audience, but also because the culture that we impose on other parts of the world is something we create right here, every day, in public forums like this one and in the decisions that come out of them. A few points about San Francisco’s culture as it is now:

“1) Every year San Francisco hosts Fleet Week and the Blue Angels Air Show, a celebration of global military dominance and the equation of might and right.

“2) In January 2007, the nine-member Black Caucus of the California Legislature released “The State of Black California” report, which said that the disparity of wealth, income and education between Black and white people is greater in San Francisco than anywhere else in the state.

“3) In July 2009, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless released its “Homes not Handcuffs” report ranking San Francisco as the seventh meanest city to the homeless in the U.S.

“Please don’t add the police use of a weapon tantamount to torture to this list.”

Three days later, I produced my own KPFA Weekend News report, below, about the March 2 Congressional briefing on the U.N. Mapping Report documenting civilian massacres and atrocities, including mass weaponized rape, committed by the armies of African dictators that the U.S. has armed, trained, advised and guided with logistical and intelligence support for many years.

This is to ask those who attended the Police Commission taser hearing to call Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi as well and urge them to attend this briefing. (For Congressional contact information, see

KPFA Weekend News Anchor Cameron Jones: The Great Lakes Region of Africa Coalition of peace and social justice activists in the U.S. is preparing for a March 2 Congressional briefing on the U.N. Mapping Report documenting atrocities committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The report was leaked on Aug. 26, 2010, and officially released by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights on Oct. 1.

The armies of Congo’s neighbors to the east – Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi – and most of all that of Rwandan President Paul Kagame are most implicated, but the U.S. continues to collaborate with all three militarily. KPFA’s Ann Garrison has more.

KPFA/Ann Garrison: International, multilingual broadcast headlines following the Aug. 26 leak of the U.N. Mapping Report were later combined into this sound collage to introduce “The contradictions of Gen. Paul Kagame,” a video posted to YouTube and Jambo News, a publication covering Africa’s Great Lakes Region.

KPFA: Despite the Mapping Report’s documentation of atrocities including mass rape, civilian massacres, destruction of hospitals and other essential infrastructure and even genocide, there have been no international criminal indictments. Within the last year, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, and Burundi’s President Pierre Nkrunziza, all of whom are implicated in the U.N. report, held onto power in elections that much of the world understood as window dressing for dictatorship.

The U.S. and U.K. have continued to arm, train and collaborate with the armies of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi in Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere on the African continent. Last July the Pentagon awarded Northrop Grumman and three other defense and security contractors a $500 million contract to train the armies of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi and other African allies.

Jacques Bahati, policy analyst for the Washington D.C.-based Africa Faith and Justice Network, spoke to KPFA about the Great Lakes Coalition’s hopes for its March 2 briefing on Capitol Hill:

Jacques Bahati: Our goal is to rally U.S. support for justice for the crimes committed by the Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian armies and their Congolese collaborators in the war against Congo in 1996 to 2003. Also we want the U.S. to take a clear stand on this issue, supporting the U.N. Mapping Report recommendations to set up an investigation to determine whether the targeted and massive killing of Congolese, Burundian and Rwandan Hutu were a genocide.

KPFA: There have been many Congressional hearings and many U.N. reports about this. What are you hoping might be different this time?

Jacques Bahati: Well, we can’t get tired. We will continue to push and rally the international community for peace and stability of the region. Although they might not hear us or they haven’t heard us, we believe that one day they will hear what we are saying, because the evidence is very clear. Many people died and justice has to be served.

Ann Garrison: Bahati also said that they would be asking Congress to push for implementation of Senate Bill 2125, the Obama Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006, and the only bill that President Obama, as a senator, ushered into law on his own. The bill calls for appointment of a special envoy to the Congo and for the cancellation of U.S. assistance to any country invading the Congo and plundering its resources, as the Mapping Report and previous U.N. reports demonstrate Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi have.

The Great Lakes Coalition is asking Americans to call their senators and representatives in Congress to ask them to attend the March 2 briefing on the U.N. Mapping Report on Capitol Hill. For updates on the hearings, see the websites of the Africa Faith and Justice Network and Friends of the Congo.

For Pacifica, KPFA and AfrobeatRadio, I’m Ann Garrison.

San Francisco writer Ann Garrison writes for the San Francisco Bay View, Global Research, Colored Opinions, Black Star News, the Newsline EA (East Africa) and her own blog, Ann Garrison, and produces for AfrobeatRadio on WBAI-NYC, Weekend News on KPFA and her own YouTube Channel, AnnieGetYourGang. She can be reached at This story first appeared on her blog.