Mayor Jesse Arreguín must stop side-stepping Urban Shield vote

CITY ISSUES: Urban Shield as a program is racist and must be dismantled

Willow Yang/File

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Forty-eight years ago on May 15, 1969, armed officers killed a student and wounded many more when they dispersed Berkeley protesters from People’s Park, in what’s since been dubbed “Bloody Thursday.”

This last Tuesday — the very next day — the Berkeley community gathered at the City Council meeting to discuss and put to a vote the pressing need to abolish the Urban Shield program.

Instead, community members waited until midnight to even comment on Urban Shield before the vote was postponed for the third time this year.

Urban Shield, a program instituted in the Bay Area since 2007, is essentially the militarization of local police. The poster for Urban Shield looks like a video game cover. At least 12 Urban Shield trainees in the Oakland Police Department have been involved in fatal shootings, resulting in multiple lawsuits worth upward of $3.6 million. According to ACLU investigations, Urban Shield SWAT teams deployed impact Black and brown folks over two-thirds of the time.  

Urban Shield seems like a pretty pressing issue, based on community engagement. Nearly 1,000 Alameda County residents having signed a petition to stop Urban Shield, and one would be hard-pressed to combat the argument that the program is incredibly racist.

Racist reactionary policies are not safe. Fifty-seven percent of Urban Shield SWAT responses are to simple parole and warrant calls, which disproportionately exacerbate and escalate violence targeting Black and brown folks. At a forum on Urban Shield hosted by Councilmembers Cheryl Davila and Kate Harrison, Davila declared “we don’t need police terrorization training because Berkeley residents aren’t terrorists.”

In 2014, despite fierce community organizing, Berkeley voted ultimately to keep Urban Shield intact. Then-councilmember Max Anderson called Urban Shield a “testosterone-fest.” Then-councilmember Jesse Arreguín voted in the minority against Urban Shield.

Now mayor, Arreguín seems far less keen to do anything for the marginalized communities he claims to represent. It seems suspicious that Urban Shield would sit so low on the meeting agenda. Big items such as this should have their own special meetings. They should not be relegated to the end of a council meeting.  

It’s preferable that police trained in anti-terrorism procedures don’t deal with protesters as if they were terrorists. The December 2014 Black Lives Matter protests are a key example of the sort of brutality militarized policing provides. One may recall the brutality with which Berkeley police beat down and tear-gassed protesters.

The Berkeley community doesn’t want to see this kind of terrorism training for our police. Instead, perhaps some sensitivity and mental health training might do officers well. There are certainly situations where we want our police to be prepared, but this sort of racialized training is inappropriate and offensive.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that “Bloody Thursday” was forty-seven years ago. In fact, it was forty-eight years ago.