Opinion: If the city won’t stop Urban Shield, the people will

With the vote to remain in Urban Shield, and the deployment of the already highly weaponized police force, representative government on Tuesday failed the city of Berkeley.

By Iman Sylvain

Iman Sylvain is completing her fifth year in a PhD program at UC Berkeley, where she studies the disparate exposure of low-income residents to mold in public housing.

On the night of June 20, after hours of public comment urging the Berkeley City Council to pull out of Urban Shield, a military training program funded by the Department of Defense, the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) displayed the exact behavior that terrified us most.

This special meeting was convened to hear the concerns of community members urging the council for a vote to opt out of Urban Shield. Speaker after speaker said they feared the rise of police militarization, targeted police brutality against queer and trans folx and people of color like Kayla Moore, the violent unpredictability of our national administration, and the global rise of fascism.

Immediately after the final vote for the city to remain in the four-day, $5 million dollar taxpayer-funded program, protesters were attacked by police with batons, their arms were twisted until the skin was blued, and blood ran down from the faces of those stricken by police.

During the meeting it was highlighted multiple times that BPD spends an annual eight hours learning deescalation tactics. How quickly that ‘rigorous’ training was abandoned as hordes of cops stormed peaceful protestors and assaulted demonstrators in the streets.

This unchecked violent use of force to squash dissent exemplifies why we want BPD out of Urban Shield. The special meeting consisted of PowerPoint presentations by Police Chief Greenwood, who ironically stressed Urban Shield’s recent focus on ecological emergency preparedness as the main reason to remain in the program, and Councilwomen Cheryl Davila and Kate Harrison, who explicitly critiqued numerous problematic elements of the program. After over four hours of poignant public comment against participation, the council decided to attend Urban Shield for an eleventh year, purchase a bullet-proof tank, and ignore the voices of hundreds of folx who gave up their evening in order to show their disdain for Urban Shield.

Last night my faith in representative democracy waned. Last night local representative democracy allowed for the purchase of a military-surplus vehicle, and the continued redirection of funds away from affordable housing and mental-health services to a racist and xenophobic SWAT training program that views all members of the public as potential terrorists. Last night the police flexed their might and viciously attacked women and elderly people after using excessive force to arrest demonstrators who merely held a banner on stage.

Now my faith lies solely in the people. The people are capable of self-governing and self-policing. The city is inept at providing creative solutions for keeping our communities safe and free of violence. Last night’s ‘Showing Up for Racial Justice’ provided strawberries, ripe tomatoes, gazpacho soup, and water to those giving public comment. ‘Queer Magic for the Resistance’ prepared handmade tea bags as an ‘Herbal Shield’ for self-care and to help relieve stress. We also heard from countless public health practitioners, public policy analysts and caretakers who suggested alternative methods for emergency preparedness. With the vote to remain in Urban Shield, and the deployment of the already highly weaponized BPD, tonight representative government has failed the city of Berkeley.