On June 20, the Berkeley City Council, only months after being swept in by a progressive majority, rejected the call of hundreds of people, ranging from former Mayor Gus Newport to Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza to famed author Naomi Klein, to terminate a series of entanglements between local police and the federal security forces of the Donald Trump administration. The resistance failed to resist. In the nation’s heartland of dissent. What went wrong, and why?
From a grassroots organizing perspective, it was perfect. After many years of growing disturbance at the annual war games expo put on by Alameda County’s Sheriff Gregory Ahern, a card-carrying supporter of Trump attorney Jeff Sessions, and reports that federal data sharing agreements with agencies like the FBI, NCRIC and ICE make a mockery of sanctuary city legislation, the table was set in Berkeley for real action. Petitions, a huge crowd, support from prominent public figures, fact sheets, a city poll dominated by those wanting a pull-out, three hours of public comment with no support for anything other than getting out.
None of it mattered.
Instead there was faltering, weakness, and finally anger, after long-term progressive representatives, including new Bernie Sanders-endorsed mayor Jessie Arreguín, not only failed to lead the resistance, but actually reversed votes they had made in December 2015 to pull out of Urban Shield. In other words, the response to the ascent of the Trump administration was for progressives to choose to lose a vote they could have won.
Tuesday’s City Council meeting was not about anything as pedestrian as voting. It was a battle for hearts and minds. In the room were literally hundreds of people, more than could fit inside the expanded venue at Longfellow Middle School, enduring a lengthy and uncomfortable meeting that ran past midnight, to share their feelings about a criminal justice apparatus they don’t trust and a need to see municipal resistance to the federalization of local law enforcement. One after another, they shared their need for less coercion and more community building and services. The facts were entirely on their side.
Berkeley’s deputization of police officers as “Terrorism Liaison Officers” under the fusion center agreement with the Northern CA Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC) places local cops under the direct supervision of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).
As stated :“TLOs shall not independently investigate tips or leads unless directed to do so by the proper authorities i.e. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), Fusion Center, etc.
Urban Shield, Alameda County Sheriff Ahern’s 10-year-old police militarization extravaganza, combines an assault weapon and surveillance technology vendor expo with practice skits in a variety of assaults engineered by narco-terrorists, eco-terrorists, anarcho-terrorists and a plethora of unhappy people of Middle Eastern descent, most of whom are shot dead with large assault weapons. This is interrupted by shopping for the latest T-shirt declaring that “Black Rifles Matter” (instead of Black Lives Matter). The expo sucks up millions of dollars in federal grants leaving virtually nothing left over for public health and emergency preparedness, and factually defunding existing emergency programs like CERT and CARD — much as the 2003 absorption of FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security exacerbated the disastrous Hurricane Katrina response in Louisiana in 2005.
Yet what the council was listening to was its own assertions that “Berkeley values” inoculated them from having to take action. Action to resist actively cooperating with the Homeland Security apparatus via signed agreements with NCRIC, ICE and UASI and ending participation in an event that perpetuates police militarization in the hands of a right-wing sheriff who has kidnapped public funding to serve the interests of the Trump/Sessions federal government.
In this Berkeley, there is no difference between just ignoring uncouth T-shirts that express aggressively racist sentiments and going over to event management and saying this garbage is not welcome in our region and either these materials are removed immediately or Berkeley public safety officers will not continue to participate in Urban Shield. Because sidestepping visible racism in law enforcement is the same thing as confronting it. Not the case.
In this Berkeley, when the police chief answers that the city’s participation in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is “indirect”, this answer is considered acceptable despite council knowledge that ICE brags on their website “ICE is the largest federal contributor to the JTTF, through active participation in each of the 104 local JTTFs nationwide. The agency also plays a critical leadership role on the national JTTF”. Yet Berkeley is a sanctuary city. Although some of our officers factually work for ICE. That can’t be.
It’s the resistance of rhetoric. A place where “hearing people out” substitutes for redress of their legitimate grievances. A place where creating a committee somehow disentangles written agreements that require collaboration with ICE and collusion with the Trump agenda.
When filling a room and keeping it filled for six and a half hours, when a hundred plus public comments over three and half hours, when former mayors and internationally acclaimed authors politely say “what the heck are you doing?”, and it is not enough, then we have confronted the limits of the power of the people.
Berkeley’s “values” do not pre-empt state power. What will is policy. Do not show up at Urban Shield. Rip up the federal collaboration agreements. Decommission your terrorism liaison officers. Words are not enough.
Tracy Rosenberg is the executive director of Media Alliance, a Bay Area democratic communications advocate and a member of Oakland Privacy, a citizens coalition that that works regionally to defend the right to privacy and enhance public transparency and oversight regarding the use of surveillance techniques and equipment. She serves as a community representative on the Berkeley PRC’s surveillance subcommittee.