Berkeley Capitulates to Police Militarization and Spying

Berkeley, California – Some 400 people packed a special city council meeting here on June 20 to demand that the city end its ‘shameful collaboration’ with federal police and spy agencies. But the council, while widely hailed as ‘progressive’, ignored the near-unanimous popular opinion and voted to renew three controversial police programs:

1/ City participation in a Regional Intelligence Fusion Center and its ‘suspicious activities’ domestic spying operation, coordinated nationally by the FBI and used locally to spy on Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

2/ City participation in the Urban Areas Security Initiative – and its annual $5 million Urban Shield weapons and SWAT team training expo – aimed at militarizing and increasing federal control over local police forces under Homeland Security. UASI promotes the model of the ‘warrior cop’.

3/ The city’s acquisition of a $205,000 bulletproof armored personnel carrier, partly funded by DHS (presumably anticipating some future wave of ‘civil unrest’ in this small city).

The Longfellow Middle School auditorium was filled to overflowing in this third marathon city council debate on the subject, this one lasting nearly seven hours, as people lined up at the mic to ask the city to make a clean break from these potentially dangerous police programs.

Local educator Steve Martinot summed it up: “These young people came and spoke beautifully and eloquently about what it is like to face the horrors of police impunity and militarization. Speaker after speaker warned against the police state.”

Beloved ex-mayor berates city council for caving in to the police

Former mayor Gus Newport scolded the city council for going along with the various schemes for further empowering the police. “I cut my teeth in the civil rights movement by getting brutalized by police at the age of 11,” he said. “I would hope that you all have the principles, the heart and the concern for the people of Berkeley to make sure these [police programs] do not go any further.”

Many spoke of the racist impacts of these federal police programs. Sharif Zakout, with the Arab Resource & Organizing Center, said: “I want to be absolutely clear that Urban Shield was developed in response to 9/11 and the Patriot Act and is an Islamophobic and racist program.” AROC is part of a broad Stop Urban Shield Coalition, whose mobilization succeeded in driving the racist program out of Oakland in 2015. That was the year when “Black Rifles Matter” was the most popular tee-shirt sold at the Urban Shield police expo.

Berkeley resident James McFadden said the Intelligence Fusion Center and UASI “are part of a continuous effort to consolidate federal control over local police…that escalated after 9/11 with the passage of the Patriot Act and creation of Homeland Security.” He said Berkeley, for example, should not be collecting data that can help ICE round up immigrants for deportation. “We don’t need a militarized surveillance state, or if unrest grows, a police occupation force as we saw in Ferguson, Missouri,” he added.

A young woman from the Filipino youth organization Anakbayan urged rejection of the police programs, commenting: “As Berkeley gentrifies, police brutality increases.”

When the council withdrew for rest breaks during the long meeting, Stop Urban Shield organizers used these occasions to do ‘mic checks’, leading chants and updating the audience on some confusing agenda changes decreed by the mayor.

Why is Berkeley cooperating with the Feds?

A postal worker asked: “Why is Berkeley cooperating with the FBI? – with its long and grim history of suppressing dissent; busting unions; conducting political witch-hunts; disrupting the civil rights and Black liberation movements and the American Indian Movement, including spying on, assassinating and imprisoning their leaders? Do we really want to be part of a national police network headed by ‘America’s top cop’, the arch-racist attorney general, Jeff Sessions? Now is the time to draw the line.”

The new mayor, Jesse Arreguin, a Democrat elected with the endorsement of Bernie Sanders, voted to continue Berkeley’s participation in UASI and Urban Shield, although he did vote to pull out of the Intelligence Fusion Center.

After the vote, city resident Marc Sapir was inspired to write an angry open letter to a longtime council member with a certified “progressive” reputation, who nevertheless could not bring himself to oppose the police on these issues. “The reason why the Democratic Party cannot pull out of its tailspin is because its duplicity, like yours, is just as real and just as transparent as that of the Republicans,” said the open letter. Sapir chastised the council for failing to “subordinate policing power to popular will.”

“Show some courage!” and “Be a fearless city!”

Not everyone on the city council caved in to the police, however. Newly elected council member Cheryl Davila, an African American woman, was steadfast in opposing all three of the pro-police measures [with support from council member Kate Harrison]. This was not appreciated by the mayor, who rudely cut Cheryl off three times during the meeting. But the soft-spoken Davila persisted, calling on her colleagues to “show some courage,” and stressing the need to “be a fearless city” by ending participation in the federal police programs. “We are a sanctuary city,” she said. “We have to protect every one of our people.”

When the votes were announced, many in the audience rushed the stage and raised a banner opposing police militarization. Most council members promptly scurried away. Police officers responded violently, arresting two young protesters, manhandling others and using their batons to bloody several heads, apparently including that of a 73-year-old man. Cheryl Davila, who had remained in the auditorium, was overheard commenting to the police, “You don’t have to break their arms!”

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South