Berkeley city leaders on Tuesday voted in favor of extending the Police Department’s participation in Urban Shield — and their decision was an unwelcome one.
Attendees told NBC Bay Area that police officers, several of whom were present at the meeting, got rough with community members, when they expressed their displeasure with the controversial training program. Social media posts indicate that officers beat people and even made two arrests.
Urban Shield is a four-day training program for local law enforcement officials in the fall. It focuses on first-responder training and shows agencies how to work together to respond to threats in high-density urban areas. Opponents, however, say it’s a form of police militarization.
A statement issued by Oakland-based nonprofit, Critical Resistance, accused the police officers of a violent crackdown.
A large crowd, including former Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport, packed the council meeting to urge the City Council to withdraw from Urban Shield. They shared "hours of community testimony about the harms, racism, and dangers of the program," the statement said.
Critical Resistance leaders accused current Mayor Jesse Arreguin of rushing a vote, prompting attendees to chant and hold up banners at the heated meeting.
A 73-year-old man claimed that he was amongst the group of protestors who police allegedly pushed back. The man alleged that a police officer hit him in the head with a baton as he was reaching for his glasses that fell to the ground. He sustained cuts on his head and blood was seen on his shirt.
Several people spoke out at a Wednesday morning news conference discussing the brush-up.
“It was kind of ironic because here we had been talking all night about the dangers of police militarization and the mindset of the police that treats community members as the problem,” said Ellen Brotsky, the wife of the man who was reportedly hit by Berkeley police.
Her husband is OK and showed no signs of having a concussion, but the Brotsky family plans to file a complaint against the Berkeley Police Department in connection with the explosive meeting, she said.
To that, Sagnictahe Salazar, who also opposes Urban Shield, added: “Can you guys imagine what happens in our homes? When we are in our communities? When we are not in front of cameras or hundreds of people? What happens to our folks? We know what happens.”
Speaking on behalf of the Berkeley Police Department, Sgt. Andrew Frankel said, “I can tell you first hand that the crowd was unwilling to let the officers allow those arrests to occur. Our officers tried to move the crowd out of the way and it’s hard to say what happened after that.” He added that he hadn’t the chance to review the level of force used.
Arreguin told NBC Bay Area that he shares concerns about the militarization of local police departments, but stressed that the choice to stay with Urban Shield — temporarily — was born from a desire to ensure the safety of Berkeley's residents and police officers.
"I believe we ultimately need to pull out of Urban Shield because of the hyper-militarized training it provides, but we cannot do it overnight," he said. "Cities throughout the Bay Area have chosen not to participate in this training and instead provide their police with other SWAT, emergency and disaster preparedness training.
"It would be irresponsible for the Berkeley City Council to pull out immediately from Urban Shield without providing our police the training they need to keep our community safe."
The council may have voted to participate in this year's Urban Shield exercises, Arreguin said, but it also created a subcomittee to work with residents as well as the police and fire departments to explore alternate sources of training for Berkeley's law enforcement agencies.
"My goal is in six months, we will move towards leaving Urban Shield permanently," he said.
Acknowledging reports of police brutality across the United States, Arreguin agreed that "there is a great deal of fear and mistrust between police and communities of color and we need to improve the relationship between our police and our community."
He continued: "The Berkeley City Council is committed to ensuring that our police engage in a way that reflects our community’s values."
— Daniel Kim (@so_dakim) June 21, 2017
— Berkeleyside (@berkeleyside) June 21, 2017
— AROC (@AROCBayArea) June 21, 2017
Speaker: "Not a single Berkeley resident here who has come & supported Urban Shield. So I ask, who are u listening to?" #StopUrbanShield
— Laura Redmond (@LaukRed) June 21, 2017