by Jacque Betz, Code Pink Gainesville
In early November, the Gainesville chapter of Code Pink organized a series of events featuring the co-founder of Code Pink, Medea Benjamin.
Code Pink is a woman-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end U.S. funded wars and occupations, support peace and human rights initiatives, and redirect our tax dollars into healthcare, education, green jobs and other life-affirming programs.
Also a co-founder of Global Exchange, Medea is a visible leader in the peace movement, not shy at all about raising her voice and carrying out creative protests at public event and governmental hearing (as any viewer of CSPAN can attest).
Her events included a meeting at the Women’s Studies Center at UF entitled “Empowering Women in the Peace Movement,” a discussion on “Justice for Palestine” at the Mennonite Church, taking part with local activists in a Drone Warfare Protest at Main and University Avenue, which included a march to Prioria Robotics, a local drone maker, and a talk at the Civic Media Center entitled “Drone Warfare, Killing by Remote Control.”
Supporting organizations for these events included Veterans for Peace, Wild Iris Books, National Organization for Women, Samuel Proctor Oral History Project, Occupy Gainesville, and Students for Justice in Palestine.
When protesters from local groups including Code Pink Gainesville, Veterans for Peace, and Occupy Gainesville marched to Gainesville local drone maker Prioria Robotics at 606 Depot Ave., they assembled outside and asked to meet with CEO Bryan da Frota. After six GPD cars showed up with 10 law enforcement officers, discussion ensued and Medea was invited to have a conversation with da Frota.
da Frota admitted that he is making spy drones for the U.S. military at $40,000 each. He said he would like to sell his drones for peaceful purposes like fighting forest fires, but he said, “The military is the only one with money.” He just signed five new military contracts for his Maveric spy drones, including drones to U.S. Special Forces.
da Frota said that Prioria has also been trying to get his spy drones into U.S. law enforcement agencies and recently made a sale to a sheriff’s department in Georgia. He said that local law enforcement currently doesn’t have the educational training in the use and maintenance of these drones like the military does. But, as more Iraq and Afghanistan veterans transition into civilian jobs, police and sheriff’s departments around the country are likely to add spy drones to their growing military arsenal.
Drone spy plane training and maintenance could be written off as “education.” The bloated Pentagon budget has lost billions in the last 13 years of failed military programs. Their arsenal of “war toys” has to include a new sales pitch to law enforcement.
Medea later explained that drone warfare that is now in the Mideast, may soon be coming to law enforcement agencies here in the USA—the very spy planes that terrorize people in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria and Iraq will be spying on us here at home. She also questioned the partnership with Saudi Arabia, which has opened over 200 extremist boys-only schools teaching radical Wahabi religion.
At the talk at the CMC, she also spoke about the City of Gainesville police department recently acquiring a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle for $2,000. For what purpose? Even Mayor Braddy thinks the MRAP is inappropriate for Gainesville. Even High Springs, Fla. acquired an MRAP in October of this year. Militarizing the High Springs police department makes no sense whatsoever. Code Pink thinks Gainesville, like the college town of Davis, Calif., should send their MRAP back to the military because it damages police relations with the public. It is unnecessary militarization of the police.