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2 arrests in protest of Berkeley council vote on Urban Shield


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Police using batons at a Berkeley City Council meeting Tuesday night arrested two people and struck protesters, including a 73-year-old man, after a demonstration erupted during a vote over whether to continue the Police Department’s participation in a law enforcement training program called Urban Shield.

The meeting at Longfellow Middle School in south Berkeley turned chaotic when community members unfurled a banner and began chanting, “Stop Urban Shield,” as some mounted the stage where council members were seated. Council members were quickly ushered out of the room.

Officers ordered people off the stage, and two who refused were arrested, said Sgt. Andrew Frankel of the Berkeley Police Department.

Virginia Cooke, 34, of Oakland and Samir Shrestha, 31, of El Cerrito were booked on suspicion of disrupting a City Council meeting and resisting arrest, Frankel said. They were later released.


When the meeting ended, people chanted outside, “Let them go,” referring to the two arrests, saidMohamed Shehk, a spokesman for Critical Resistance, one of the groups opposing Urban Shield.

The demonstration escalated when residents tried to intervene as officers led Cooke and Shrestha to patrol cars, Frankel said.

Shehk said officers hit demonstrators with batons and threatened them with a tear gas launcher, but it was never deployed.

Frankel did not dispute that police used batons on protesters.

“It would not surprise me if batons were used,” Frankel said. “Yes, one of our launchers did come out of one of the vehicles. No gas was ever deployed.”

Lewis Williams, a 73-year-old Berkeley resident, followed the demonstrators outside, where he said police began “pushing really violently against us.”


As Williams stood in the crowd, he said, someone knocked off his glasses and when he bent down to pick them up, a baton struck him on the head.

“I felt this blow on top of my head and then blood came streaming out,” Williams said. “It seems totally gratuitous that they would hit me like that. I didn’t see it coming.”

The City Council eventually voted 7-2 to continue the city’s participation in Urban Shield for one more year while forming a subcommittee to review the program’s training, meet with the police commission and work with the city’s police and fire departments to identify alternatives.

Urban Shield, funded by the federal Department of Homeland Security, trains law enforcement officers for disasters, terrorist attacks and crisis interventions. The event was held at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton in September and drew over 500 protesters, with 20 detained after blocking fairground entrances.

The protesters believe Urban Shield militarizes police departments and pits them against communities of color. Frankel countered that the program has helped train Berkeley officers in such situations as serving warrants and responding to medical emergencies.

Mayor Jesse Arreguin voted to continue police involvement in the program for another year but said Wednesday he hoped the city would end its participation after that.

“I think it would be irresponsible for the City Council to pull out immediately. I cannot put our officers and residents in harm’s way,” Arreguin said.

He agreed with protesters’ concerns that Urban Shield “hyper-militarizes” police forces, but said alternative training programs still need to be identified before pulling out completely.

Sarah Ravani is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: sravani@sfchronicle.com Twitter:@SarRavani




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