He’s done it time and time again, painting the police as the one institution protecting civil society from barbarism.
Several years ago, it was the “Police Lives Matter” bracelet he wore as he reported a firefighter to his supervisor because that firefighter’s Black Lives Matter pin was too “political”. Last year, in a terrifying op-ed he republished on his website, he claimed we needed to correct the “lack of a culture of lawfulness for the long term health of Santa Cruz” by weakening laws that limited police power because “without a culture of lawfulness, society quickly falters. It seems the culture of lawfulness is quaking in Santa Cruz.” He uses clever, euphemistic phrases like “Little Brother” to help sell increased surveillance powers for local cops and dispel worries that such technology might be abused. He frames these increased powers as the only tools we have to prevent deadly shootings in our neighborhood or address homelessness.
Another recurrent tactic in Andy Mills’ playbook? Us vs outsiders. He leans into existing prejudices among his supporters, like the pervasive hatred of students among local right-wing politicos, to explain away the ills of society as policeable problems–not societal failings. “Anti-police” protestors? Outspoken grad students. Surveillance skeptics? Not from around here. In Andy’s world, everything is an us-vs-them zero sum game where the police are the heroes and the rest of us need to fall in line, or we’re part of the problem.
This may go against the grain for many who believe that Santa Cruz is exceptional in having a progressive, enlightened police force – unlike those backward communities where protest against police is justified (Andy Mills does have a degree in Pastoral Theology after all) – but it’s hard not to read too much into his word choice or his diverse PR playbook once you notice the header of his personal blog: a quote which Mills attributes to General Stanley McChrystal, “If we cannot change the environment to suit us, we must change to suit the environment.” Yes, disgraced Afghanistan Occupier General Stanley McChrystal who was fired by President Barack Obama after Rolling Stone’s profile exposed his complete disregard for diplomacy and civilian leadership. But even if McChrystal wasn’t such an odd pick due to his horrific attitudes toward democratic processes, why is the Chief of Police quoting a counter-insurgency occupier? Does he empathize with the situation?
Left:McChrystal apologizes live on air to the Afghani people for attack that killed civilians. Right: Chief Andy Mills kneels for some reason during Black Lives Matter protest in front of anti-homeless barricade.
Counterinsurgency tactics are nothing new in the US and by some accounts, such strategies expanded after US troops came home and joined or consulted police forces across the country. A former Green Beret publicly employed counterinsurgency tactics in Springfield, Massachusetts and, when he was redeployed to Afghanistan, brought new lessons and improved tactics back with him. Those same tactics were also quite publicly employed in Salinas to combat gang violence. Is that what Chief Mills means by “change to suit the environment”? We can see these same tactics in use locally as SCPD ups its PR game with more mugshots and feel-good videos posted to social media and also as civilians get deputized–often using their new powers to harass fellow citizens.
“We still have to have order in society, so we will have a police presence.”
- Chief Andy Mills to Good Time Santa Cruz, August 2017
We can see those same tactics being employed locally: the empty virtue signaling of kneeling during a Black Lives Matter protest in front of the anti-homeless barricades he erected, the PR campaign to discredit protestors, and empty promises of incremental progress–most recently, as a "black lives matter" mural was being painted in front of City Hall, six police officers restrained and then tasered a black man experiencing a mental health crisis. Photo-op fist bumps with one fist while the other continues to strike non-violent arrestees.
But for an evangelist of the “Thin Blue Line”, this occupier mentality shouldn’t be surprising given the phrases’ 19th-century war story origins: British foot soldiers held a “Thin Red Line” against hordes of Russian Cavalry a la 300. The term went on to refer to the US military, before it was adopted by Machiavellian cops. In their minds, Police are the "thin blue line" that protects the rest of us from chaos. We see the symbol emerge when police power is threatened–previously, when LAPD was criticized for police brutality in the 50’s, today as we take to the streets to demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others.
United States flag replaced by Thin Blue Line flag at Trump "superspreader" rally in Waukesha, WI on October 24th, 2020
Andy Mills is problematic, but he isn’t the root problem. It’s the culture that has become inseparable from the practice. A culture of lawlessness has consumed police departments across the country and, as departments’ power and jurisdictions have grown, so too have their incompetence and propensity for homicidal and sexual violence. This culture is even more troubling given recent revelations surrounding the use of military surveillance technology employed during protests, especially in affluent communities, and their ongoing surveillance of there such "suspicious" activities. Police culture in the United States is inherently fascist and the issues our chief seeks to tackle don’t have violent solutions, they require compassionate policies and fighting a different kind of war. A war for which the police aren’t equipped. A war on capitalism.
We need to reinvest in people–not guns. We need houses, not BearCats. We need expanded health services, not riot gear. We need more social workers, not more cops. We need to protect people, not property. We need to build community–not a police state. We don’t need Andy Mills to resign. We need to eliminate the position.
Luna Syenites “Alternatives to Police” series of posters conveys the readiness, and common sense of various alternatives to “domination in the streets”
But, while the rest of us are designing a less violent society, cops are asking for more money when there’s less to go around, more power when they deserve none, and greater impunity when we need justice because, to them, they’re the only thing between civil society and barbarism; Andy Mills vs the carpetbagger antifa hordes who want to destroy our culture of lawfulness. He’s drawn a thin blue line in the sand.