If you had $675,000 to spend on the improvement of life in Oakland, how would you invest it? In community gardens for disadvantaged neighborhoods? After- school programs for minority youth? Drug treatment and/or shelter and/or health care services for the poor? Training and hiring unemployed workers in the ecological retro-fitting of local residences? All of the above?

At some point close and prior to July 2010, the city of Oakland made a different sort of choice. It used that sum of taxpayer money to purchase a “sonic cannon” – a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) 300 X Mass Communications System. Oakland’s surrounding jurisdiction Alameda County also purchased an LRAD 300X in 2010.

It was a bold expenditure given the city’s considerable fiscal woes as well as its widespread poverty. “After three years of layoffs, furloughs and cuts [Oakland] city councilmembers called ‘drastic,’” an Oakland neighborhood newspaper reported on June 16, 2010, “the city still faces a $31.5 million shortfall for next year’s general fund.” In May, Oakland councilmember Ignacio de la Fuente had proposed laying off 200 police officers as one of numerous cuts to balance the budget.

A sonic cannon is one of many types of sonic and ultrasonic weapons developed by “defense” corporations in league with the military and law enforcement over the last decade. As Wikipedia explains in a heavily sourced report:

“Some sonic weapons …have been described as sonic bullets, sonic grenades, sonic mines, or sonic cannons. Some make a focused beam of sound or ultrasound; some make an area field of sound. Although many sonic and ultrasonic weapons are described as ‘non-lethal,’ they can still kill under certain conditions…Extremely high-power sound waves can disrupt and/or destroy the eardrums of a target and cause severe pain or disorientation. This is usually sufficient to incapacitate a person. Less powerful sound waves can cause humans to experience nausea or discomfort.”

The 300X, according to its manufacturers, produces up to 143 decibels of sound. That, former Oakland city attorney Michael Siegel noted last fall, “is plenty sufficient to destroy the hearing of any protestor.” According to an audiologist testifying before a Canadian court in 2010, "Exposure to very intense noise [such as that generated by an LRAD] can cause damage to the cochlea of the inner ear which may not show up until years later. Disruption to the delicate mechanics of the inner ear can sometimes improve within a few hours or days, but most often there is not a complete recovery and there is permanent hearing loss. On the other hand, where the hair cells in the inner ear are damaged by very loud sounds it invariably results in permanent hearing loss. . . . ."

Human beings are born with only one set of these hair cells. When damaged, these hair cells do not recover or regenerate.

In the fall of 2009, the San Diego-based American Technology Corporation (ATC) insisted that the LRAD devices it patented, manufactured, and sold were “not weapons” but publicly sensitive “communications” tools to "influence the behavior and gain compliance" from groups of people. Still, the company admitted in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing in September 2008 that their technology was "capable of sufficient acoustic output to cause damage to human hearing or human health” and expressed concern that this destructive capacity could lead its manufacturers and users to face lawsuits. There should be no doubt that local, state, and federal authorities who purchase LRADs in the name of “public safety” see them as part the state’s coercive arsenal against popular protest and public assembly...