City Council delays Urban Shield vote, appoints library trustee

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At its regular meeting Tuesday, Berkeley City Council postponed its vote on the city’s continued participation in the contentious Urban Shield program.

The continued collaboration with the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, or NCRIC, and The Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative, or UASI, was harshly criticized by community members at the meeting. Members of the public specifically targeted the Urban Shield training program, a UASI program scrutinized for its alleged promotion of police militarization and Islamophobia.

UASI is a U.S. Department of Homeland Security program used by BPD for grants and training programs, according to Berkeley Police Department Chief Andrew Greenwood.

The meeting lasted until 1 a.m., two hours after the regularly scheduled end. Public comment on the Urban Shield item began just before midnight, but at roughly 12:30am, Mayor Jesse Arreguín announced that the council would not vote that night.

“Everyone who came will have an opportunity to speak, but we will not be voting tonight,” Arreguin said at the meeting. “It would not be appropriate at one in the morning to make such an important decision.”

Members of the public, many of whom had waited for five hours to comment, expressed dismay at Arreguin’s decision. The crowd chanted “stop Urban Shield” before marching out of the Council Chambers.

Council referred the items — including a previously approved purchase of a UASI-funded armored police van — to the agenda committee to be scheduled for a special meeting. The date of the meeting is yet to be decided.

Executive Director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center Lara Kiswani said at the meeting that she was appalled that the idea of pulling out of Urban shield was even a question.

“The fact of the matter is that you need to pull out,” Kiswani said at the meeting. “And you cannot say you stand against the Muslim ban but continue to support Urban Shield. You cannot say you’re a sanctuary city and continue to support Urban Shield.”

Christine Schwartz, a disability commissioner and longtime emergency medical services volunteer for Urban Shield, argued for the importance of training provided by Urban Shield.

“It’s all about saving people’s lives,” Schwartz said at the meeting. “We need to train the police to know what to do to help us.”

Additionally, council voted 6-0-3 to appoint John Selawsky, currently the chair of the Rent Stabilization Board, to the Board of Library Trustees.

Selawsky was appointed in favor of Elizabeth Hadzima Perkins, the applicant chosen by BOLT.

“I care deeply about this community,” Selawsky said at the meeting. “I will work with whoever is on the library board. I will work with the community to heal, to move forward.”

Edward Booth covers city government. Contact Edward Booth at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Edward_E_Booth.