Friday, July 07, 2017

Black Rifles Matter in Berkeley


SFBayview |  In 2015, Berkeley City Councilor Max Anderson voiced this eloquent opposition to militarization of the police during the annual Bay Area Urban Shield war games and weapons expo:
“The culture that’s cultivated by the type of training that you receive becomes the way you conduct yourselves …

“When I was in the Marines in the early ‘60s, all our pop-up targets that we practiced on were Asians. You know now they’re Middle Easterners, so it kinda shifts, and so the rationale and the justification for targeting people on these bases shifts along with it.

“And when military weapons follow military thinking into our police ranks, you know we have a problem. You know it’s a problem of association because when you’re in a combat situation, you’re thinking about survival, and you’re thinking about enemies and friendlies. And when you inculcate that into our environment here, and we start thinking about the citizenry as either being friendly or enemies, and react accordingly based on what designation we lay on people, then we’re sliding down that track.”

What could better describe the prevailing mindset of U.S. police? And we all know who’s on the enemies list that they feel compelled to kill to survive: Black and Brown people, Muslims and poor people.

Philando Castile, a Black citizen of Minnesota, calmly and respectfully told Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez, “Sir, I have to tell you I do have a firearm on me,” without pulling it out. Officer Yanez responded by firing the seven bullets that killed Castile as he sat in a car, then started screaming, sobbing and wailing, “I thought I was gonna die!”

What could better describe the prevailing mindset of U.S. police? And we all know who’s on the enemies list that they feel compelled to kill to survive: Black and Brown people, Muslims and poor people.

SFBayview |   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)
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 t-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.