Opinion: Berkeley police must be prepared for disasters, but not with Urban Shield

When police are trained to treat people like they are enemy combatants, it increases the chances that they will respond to local emergencies as though they are in a war.

As a 30-year resident of Berkeley, and a person of faith, I am opposed to the Berkeley police department’s participation in Urban Shield exercises. Many of us were horrified as the situation unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri, after the killing of Michael Brown, when police and SWAT teams approached protesters in tanks with military assault weaponry.

Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood says that could not happen here, but when police are trained to treat people like they are enemy combatants, it increases the chances that they will respond to local emergencies as though they are in a war. One look at any of the videos on the Urban Shield website shows the rampant militarism that underlines the training. Is this what we want for Berkeley?

Consider the people that responded to the collapse of the freeway after the 1989 earthquake. It was mostly black and brown people that lived in the vicinity of the freeway who risked their lives to rescue people. Under Urban Shield command structures, there will be police with assault weaponry in camouflage ordering people around instead of training vulnerable communities to help themselves in emergencies.

The Berkeley Police Department needs and deserves training that increases their skills and capacity for regional collaboration for emergencies and natural disasters. They say that they cannot get the real-life scenario practices that are offered at Urban Shield anywhere else. If that is what they need, let us figure out a way to do that under an emergency preparedness and public health paradigm instead of an anti-terrorism paradigm.

I want to quote Robette Dias, who is the people of color program coordinator for the Faith In Action Department of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

“We live in a culture that is based on domination and violence. It is in the air we breathe. So what does this mean for us? Are we above or outside this culture of violence? No- It dominates our lives and defines who we are, but it does not define who we could be.”

I am calling on Mayor Jesse Areguín to assert progressive leadership by showing courage and vision in creating the city that Berkeley could be. End our police department’s involvement in Urban Shield and lead in the creation of a collaborative regional emergency response that provides training based on Berkeley’s strength and resilience instead of militarism and fear.

Micky Duxbury, a Berkeley resident, is a member of the justice council of the First Unitarian Church of Oakland and is active in McGee-Spaulding Neighbors in Action.