Protesters say police injured activists after Urban Shield vote

Two of the activists who rushed the council dais after the vote to continue Urban Shield were arrested. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Update, 3:15 p.m. Organizers are demanding a re-vote on Berkeley’s participation in Urban Shield. Represented by the Oakland law firm Siegel & Yee, they are alleging that the City Council violated the Brown Act by privately discussing the vote before the meeting, voting on an unclear amendment to the original item and holding a vote that was not publicly audible amid disruption.

The firm has sent Zach Cowan, the city attorney, a “Cure and Correct” notice, demanding a re-vote within 30 days.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín believes the vote was legal, according to a spokeswoman from his office.

The mayor released a new statement Thursday afternoon, saying police are investigating the alleged baton attack and will provide the mayor with a report on the aftermath of the vote.


The protesters’ rush to the dais made “many council members fear for their safety,” he said in the statement. Officers gave verbal warnings before the arrest and before pushing people back from their vehicles, he said.

“I don’t know why a person was hit with a baton and police are investigating the incident. I wish them a speedy recovery,” he said.

Original story, 12:30 p.m. Organizers say a 73-year-old man was among multiple people injured by police early Wednesday morning in the aftermath of the Berkeley City Council’s vote to continue Berkeley police and firefighters’ participation in Urban Shield, a regional emergency response training.

Photos and videos show other activists attending to the bleeding man. They say an officer struck him on the head with a baton after he bent down to pick up his glasses.

Sgt. Andrew Frankel, BPD spokesman, said the department has not received a complaint about the incident or the use of excessive force as of Thursday morning. Any complaints would be investigated, he said.


“I’ve seen the video of an elderly gentleman with a head injury, though I haven’t seen the video of how he got it,” Frankel said.

The police took out their batons to hold back the crowd of protesters infuriated by the vote to support Urban Shield, a Department of Homeland Security-funded program critics say promotes the militarization of police. BPD arrested two organizers, Virginia Cooke, 33, of Oakland, and Samir Shrestha, 31, of El Cerrito, when they climbed onto the Longfellow Middle School auditorium stage where the council dais was.

The protesters rushed after the officers as they led those detained to police vehicles outside, chanting, “Let them go.”

“The crowd was trying to prevent us from effecting the arrests,” Frankel said. Additional officers were called to the scene in the aftermath of the vote and arrests.

The Stop Urban Shield coalition, whose members implored the council to pull out of the training during an hours-long public comment period, said the police response proved the group is right to protest.


“The Berkeley police chief spent much of the meeting talking about how his police department is skilled in de-escalation, yet what we saw is police officers quickly escalate against Berkeley communities,” said Ellen Brotsky, an organizer with Stop Urban Shield, in a press release from the group.

The organizers who packed into the special council meeting said the focus on terrorism and weaponry at Urban Shield, and its affiliation with the federal government, threatens Muslims, people of color and immigrants.

BPD and BFD say the program provides critical training on disaster response and regional collaboration for a variety of scenarios. Each year BPD sends eight officers to Urban Shield, which was created by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office in 2007.

In a 6-2-1 vote, with Councilwomen Cheryl Davila and Kate Harrison voting in dissent and Councilman Kriss Worthington abstaining, the council decided to allow continued participation in Urban Shield for a year while a new sub-committee evaluates the program and potential alternatives. Mayor Jesse Arreguín initially proposed suspending Berkeley’s involvement in the training for a year.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Arreguín said he supports eventually withdrawing from Urban Shield, writing that he agrees the training is “hyper-militarized.”

But “it would be irresponsible for the Berkeley City Council to pull out immediately from Urban Shield without providing our police the training they need to keep our community safe,” he wrote.

The City Council also renewed other regional and federal law enforcement relationships, and approved the purchase of an armored van, at the more than six-hour meeting that began Tuesday evening.

The two people who were arrested have been released, according to Stop Urban Shield.