Opinion: Councilman Bartlett voted the wrong way on Urban Shield

While it took a majority to turn their back on their citizens on the Urban Shield decision, I am particularly dismayed by City Councilman Ben Bartlett’s vote.

By Armando Davila

Armando Davila is Berkeley native dedicated to the spiritual labor of revolution, and the beautiful and resilient adaptation to the crises of our times.

The City Council voted Tuesday for Berkeley Police to attend Urban Shield for the 11th time, despite the fact the fact that 500 people showed up to oppose the idea. The meeting ended with BPD bloodying the audience. To be fair, the audience, after realizing their nearly six hours of public comment had no impact, decided to disrupt the vote. The BPD, instead of practicing de-escalation or just simply letting the protest fizzle out on its own, decided to move straight to excessive force. I imagine to Chief Greenwood’s despair they enacted the very paradigm of violence that motivated a 500+ turn out to oppose Urban Shield.

While it took a majority to turn their back on their citizens, I am particularly dismayed by City Councilman Ben Bartlett’s vote. Ben who ran on vision, ethics, and courage is providing none. Like those who tweeted #Trumpgrets, I think it’s time we launch #Bengrets, to record of his failures to enact visionary, ethical, and courageous leadership. Ben, I hope you respond to this with what you stand for, a commitment to accountability and the drive to see it through.

I’m feeling #Bengrets because his endorsement for Urban Shield was pivotal. He centered his own personal fear after attending Trump rallies as a just cause. The logical progression he presented was poorly thought out, and deeply problematic. The subtext of his tone and rationalization was “I am afraid for my life and will be when they return.”

Ironically this is what Philando Castile’s killer Jeronimo Yaniz said and police officers nationwide use to justify the unnecessary death of their victims. I don’t want to see this sentiment as the means to abandon our power and volunteer our city to these trolls. Black and Brown people can’t even call the police and expect to get out alive, feel that fear. When you have a room full of hundreds ready to back your courage, feel that power. Obeying our fear in advance is not a winning strategy.

Ben’s logic was that in order to prepare the police to deal with the “alt-right” as terrorist threats in the near future we have to send our police to Urban Shield. Reasonable if you don’t account for any larger historical, political or cultural context of this country. Remember the largest police association in America endorsed Trump. Remember Dylan Roof was not considered a terrorist and is alive. Extremists who murder innocent people and happen to be “white” are rarely considered terrorists but are instead humanized while victims of police brutality are demonized and put on trial for their own murder. Remember Urban Shield used exclusively black and brown figures for its anti-terrorism training. My point here is culturally the United States of America is not able to intervene with either the “alt-right” or police terror and using one to fight the other is baffling.

Ben, Greenwood and all of City Council: Can we acknowledge that police kill more people in America than domestic terrorists? That the professional integrity of policing and the privileges the role provides are at odds with our rights to freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This should be the basis for the pursuit of real visionary, ethical and courageous leadership.

What I am afraid of is not resolving the various crises of our time in only the way that we can right now. I am afraid of not having the leadership required to sustain this transformation of business as usual especially in my often-pretentious hometown. I’m afraid our Council is not dedicating enough labor to this reflective inquiry.

I want to see BPD leading the transformation of violence, racism, corruption, and domination. I want to see our police at the forefront of this movement working within itself and other departments who are ready to say enough is enough and rejecting the unnecessary privileges and power they are being afforded. Which doesn’t see further armoring, and weaponizing as the only responses to social unrest, global warming, and economic destabilization.

Let’s walk together towards a thriving, just and sustainable city that truly works for everyone especially the most vulnerable, where victims aren’t a necessary part of business as usual. This is not an easy or short path. In fact choosing to do the almost spiritual labor of transforming our sick society together in Berkeley and beyond may be most difficult and satisfying choice we can make. This is the path of visionary leadership. As Joanna Macy says “Our very survival may depend on doing just that.”

Just so we are clear, I am asking you directly Ben: What is your vision? What are the principles of your ethics? Do you have the courage and the drive to see it through? Only with this clearly stated can we accurately and compassionately hold you accountable.

Speaking only for myself, feeling pissed about how that meeting went down, with a heart free of hatred.

Editors’note: Davila’s mother is City Councilwoman Cheryl Davila, who voted against Berkeley’s continued participation in Urban Shield.