Opinion: Berkeley faith leaders speak out against Urban Shield

The continued participation of Berkeley police and emergency responders in Urban Shield’s SWAT team competition and vendor show is a threat to the very fabric of our community.

Dear Mayor Arreguin and Berkeley City Council members,

We find ourselves together again, faced with a crucial decision that concerns the safety and wellbeing of our entire community and beyond. As faith leaders, we believe that the continued participation of Berkeley Police and emergency responders in Urban Shield’s SWAT team competition and vendor show is a threat to the very fabric of our community. To expose those who are supposed to protect our community to even one more minute of the violent and racist training in Urban Shield is one minute too much. One more minute is too much for their own bodies and souls to absorb and too much violence for our communities to endure. Now is the time to invite a new way forward.

On Monday, July 23, you will be asked to draw from the heart of your political oath, as well as your moral commitments, to embrace your authority and responsibility to the common good and God willing, put an end to Berkeley’s participation in Urban Shield tactical scenarios and militarized equipment show. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what is right,” and your time is now.

Now is the time to listen first to the voices of those most vulnerable in our community, to honor the stories of survival and resiliency and witness the new day they are calling forth.

Now is the time to dream beyond the walls of power and prestige, to move in solidarity with the creativity and visions that surround you.

Now is the time to turn away from all that would tell you that there are no options, that there is only one way to protect and serve our communities.

Now is the time to create alternatives, alternatives that will always keep families together, alternatives that value lives and dignity and thriving.

Now is the time to train one another first and always, in practices of care.

Now is the time to believe you have the power to do what is right.

Whatever pressures and fears keep you up at night, threatening abandonment and chaos, remember beloveds, that you are not alone. A whole city, county, country are waiting for a government to reflect the power of the people—a people who refuse to be brutalized and separated from their families, a people who have the creative vision and resources to guide us all towards thriving, a people ready, here, now and rising. The end of Berkeley’s participation in Urban Shield’s killing exercise means the beginning of Berkeley’s participation in Beloved community, in sanctuary, in the common good. Now is the time.

We, the undersigned Berkeley faith leaders from across traditions and backgrounds, are here to journey along with you, to remind you that there is a calling deeper than fear within each of you that moved you to this moment, that committed you to take up your oath to this community and promise to help create “a Berkeley that works for everyone.” In this time, may you be liberated from whatever binds you and separates you from the good of our community. May you vote not from fear but knowing that the Holy One who made you, who loves you and who guides you, is calling you forth on the path of Peace, Justice and Righteousness.

Signed,

Pastor Mike McBride, The Way Christian Center

Rev. Debbie Lee, Executive Director, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity

David Vasquez-Levy, President, Pacific School of Religion

Rev. Dr. Michael Smith, McGee Avenue Baptist Church

Rev. Marvis V. Peoples, Pastor, Liberty Hill Missionary Baptist Church

Pastor George Dix, Phillips Temple CME

Pastor Kevin Craddock, Ebenezer Baptist Church

Ambrose Carroll, Church by the Side of the Road

Rev. Anthony L Hughes, Senior Pastor, St. Paul AME Church of Berkeley

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Shomeret Shalom Global Congregation

Sister Mary E McGann. RSCJ, Roman Catholic, Society of the Sacred Heart

Rev. Daniel Buford, BOCA

Dr. Sharon R. Fennema, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley

The Rev. Lacey Hunter, Pastor of Education, St. John’s Presbyterian Church of Berkeley

The Rev. Jeff R. Johnson, University Lutheran Chapel of Berkeley