Berkeley Councilmembers Cave on Urban Shield after SWAT Team Threats

Becky O'Malley
Saturday July 28, 2018 - 11:50:00 AM

Watching Monday’s special meeting of the Berkeley City Council was dispiriting, to say the least. All I could think, seeing the tortured rationale that the majority of councilmembers used to justify caving in to the Berkeley Police Department’s embarrassing display of blatant blackmail, was “What chumps!”.

For a good conventional news report of what went down on Monday, start by reading this accurate account from the East Bay Times:

Berkeley to stay in controversial Urban Shield, By Ali Tadayon

The reporter captured the essential points of what I saw played out at excruciating length by waffling councilmembers pretending they weren’t being hijacked.

Urban Shield is a glorified trade show, folks, the expensive high-tech version of those notorious gun shows so deplored by Berkeleyans of almost all stripes. 

True, it’s financed by the Department of Homeland Security. That’s not a plus, is it? That’s the same department that has managed to mislay the parents of several thousand migrant kids. Doufless at best, criminal at worst. And the icing on the poison cake is that they’re cooperating with ICE. 

Well, then, it’s run by the Alameda County Sheriff’s office. Again, not a plus. 

Here’s a rundown on what the electeds in the county think of how the Sheriff’s been running the event: 

Alameda County Supervisors Vote to End Urban Shield as 'Currently Constituted' by Darwin BondGraham. 

If the supervisors, some of whom come from places more conservative than Berkeley, are down on Urban Shield, why does Berkeley lag behind? 

Ali Tadayon’s story picked up what I thought was the most depressing aspect of the whole dreary discussion: one councilmember’s dismissal of the effect of pulling out of Urban Shield as “symbolic”. 

Of course it’s symbolic! And what exactly is wrong with that? Here we are in the home of one of the world’s great universities, of which said councilmember and several of her colleagues are graduates, and they don’t understand the virtue and power of symbolic gestures. When I was at UCB more than a half century ago, symbolism was a big-time topic, but perhaps times have changed, and students study marketing instead. 

Let me spell it out for you. 

In the long line of public commenters on Monday were several of the most articulate spokespeople for Berkeley’s diminishing African-American community. There was at least one self-identified Muslim. There were resolute civil libertarians, and other highly visible neighborhood progressive activists. 

All of them deserve to get at least one symbolic bone from the “newly progressive” Berkeley City Coumcil, in a society where the constituencies they represent are under constant attack in matters small and large. 

That very same day, as it happens, I heard that a visitor to the Bay Area, a family friend, a well-brought-up young woman with impeccable demeanor, was pulled off BART by hostile enforcers who accused her of not having bought a ticket, which of course she had. Oh, did I mention that she’s Black? 

And then I got an email from a contemporary, a distinguished woman who’s a former vice-mayor of Berkeley, connecting a current Bay Area incident with something that happened to her years ago, topic Shopping While Black. Times change, but not that much. 

You may say that neither of these incidents touches on Urban Shield, but they both do, because they’re all about suspicion: who’s suspected of what, and why. And also, how are police supposed to deal with situations where suspicion translates into action, as for example the recent killing of a Trader Joe’s employee in LA by police chasing a suspect? 

After my UCB education in the power of symbolism I got in-the-field training in the role of marketing as an executive in the family tech enterprise. That’s what makes it possible for me to see that Urban Shield is nothing more than a trade show for pre-conceived technical solutions in search of profitable “problems”. 

When I was in business, I used to say, not always with anyone listening, let’s define problems before we suggest solutions. That’s the Urban Shield vendors in a nutshell, prepackaged solutions which actually create problems. 

I stood in my company’s booth at trade show after trade show: Comdex, the Consumer Electronics Show, the Hanover Fair in Germany, the one in Manhattan for phone technology and many more, and saw innumerable technical fixes that were totally unneeded pushed by inept companies that eventually vanished. I see the same pattern in the vendor-run Urban Shield enterprise, spiced up by games masquerading as adrenaline-fueled training exercises. If it weren’t sexist, I’d say that boys just love to have toys, but some women have caught the bug too. 

What actually pays off is the skill of talking down a tense situation: patience, tenacity, persuasion—virtues traditionally attributed to women, but also available for men. 

Berkeley police have done pretty well recently with this stuff. I went into the thick of things when the white supremacists were in town, and was impressed to see how well the men and women of the BPD were able to do nothing when that was the best response. Nothing that Urban Shield offers would help them keep up this good work. 

On the other hand, we should all be ashamed of the report that some members of the BPD’s swat team hijacked the votes of Mayor Arreguin and his colleagues by threatening to quit. I believe that’s called the “I’ll Take My Marbles and Go Home” strategy, unbecoming in a third grader and inexcusable in grown men. Whoever these childish fellows are (sorry, I’d be surprised to hear women were involved) Berkeley really doesn’t need them on our swat team, and in fact shouldn’t trust them there. 

Almost every day, right here in Berkeley, I hear stories from African-American friends and family members of encounters with hostile, self-important members of the law enforcement profession. Symbolism isn’t nearly as good as action, but it’s much better than doing nothing. 

The Berkeley City Council should have used this opportunity to reinforce the idea that police officers should be, first and foremost, peace-keepers, experts above all in the power of persuasion. The two African-American councilmembers got it, as did Kate Harrison and Kriss Worthington. As for the rest of them, Monday’s vote represents a colossal failure of nerve. Several of them should know better.