Defending sanctuary and fighting for abolition: It’s our time to be bold

by Critical Resistance

We find ourselves in a moment with a great deal at stake. Our communities are fighting to define and create sanctuary spaces, while enduring a dangerous presidential administration that has emboldened white supremacist and xenophobic action. The Trump agenda has caused increased harassment, fear and even death. In the movement for abolition of policing, imprisonment, surveillance and the entire prison industrial complex, now is our time to be bold.

Woods Dewitt speaks to the Berkeley City Council June 20. On June 19, African Liberation Day, or Juneteenth, nationally prominent freedom fighters Naomi Klein, Alicia Garza, Junot Diaz and Kali Akuno wrote a letter appealing to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin to do the right thing. Arreguin, backed by Bernie Sanders, was elected by progressives, but he let them down. – Photo: Brooke Anderson

We must stand united and see the movement for sanctuary as a part of abolition. We must defend all people targeted by the state and the daily violence of policing: undocumented people, former prisoners, people targeted by gang criminalization and working class communities of color. True sanctuary has no carve-outs. True sanctuary protects our people from policing and militarization.

In Oakland, Critical Resistance is part of the Stop Urban Shield Coalition working to put an end to an annual SWAT training and weapons expo that promotes the militarization of police forces all over the country and world.

This past Tuesday, CR Oakland and the Stop Urban Shield Coalition mobilized over 500 people to demand that Berkeley City Council lead the country in rejecting federal anti-terrorism programs tied to Trump and withdraw the city of Berkeley’s participation from Urban Shield.

In the movement for abolition of policing, imprisonment, surveillance and the entire prison industrial complex, now is our time to be bold.

National figures endorsed Stop Urban Shield’s demand that Berkeley withdraw from the war games, including author Naomi Klein, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, author Junot Diaz and Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson. Together we called on Berkeley to give meaning to its claims of sanctuary and defend us from these militarized trainings and the daily violence that Urban Shield unleashes on Black and Brown people.

For a liberal city that calls itself sanctuary and denounces the harmful policies of the Trump administration, pulling out of this federally-funded police militarization program should have been straightforward.

The Stop Urban Shield Coalition mobilized over 500 people, nearly all Berkeley residents, to the Berkeley City Council showdown, demanding Berkeley withdraw from the annual police militarization and weapons expo called Urban Shield that brings the policies and machinery of war to policing the hood. – Photo: Brooke Anderson

After five hours of community testimony, the City Council made a sham vote to continue participating in the program, and the police were unleashed on the communities who were there to protest the same type of police violence they were met with. Communities members rallied and stood strong, defending each other and amplifying our demand for an end to the violence of policing. See more of Brooke Anderson’s photos of the powerful night here.

We are proud of the unity and resilience displayed by all those who attended the hearings, and we send out a call to those fighting for sanctuary across the country: Be disciplined, be strong; we are with you!

For a liberal city that calls itself sanctuary and denounces the harmful policies of the Trump administration, pulling out of this federally-funded police militarization program should have been straightforward.

The task for all those fighting for liberation is to push beyond the bounds. We must push those in positions of power who are complicit with dangerous policing programs, yet claim to “support” immigrants, Black communities, people of color, queer and trans people, women and working class communities. We must push them, and we must push for abolition.

Knowing that the violence of the prison industrial complex stands in the way of allowing true sanctuary spaces to flourish, we are committed to advancing the vision of abolition.

Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization working to abolish the prison industrial complex, can be reached at Critical Resistance, 1904 Franklin St., Suite 504, Oakland, CA 94612, 510-444-0484 or

Stop Urban Shield Coalition letter to Berkeley mayor signed by Naomi Klein, Alicia Garza, Junot Diaz, Kali Akuno

To Mayor Jesse Arreguin, 2180 Milvia St., Fifth Floor, Berkeley, CA 94704

Dated June 19, 2017

Dear Mayor Arreguin,

Immediately after the vote for Berkeley PD to stay involved in Urban Shield, protesters took the stage and unfurled their banner. But they were rushed by police, who drove them off the stage and arrested two, including Samir Shtha, who was put in a pain hold. – Photo: Brooke Anderson

We write to you with hope and urgency on the Council’s upcoming vote on whether to approve the City’s Agreement with the City and County of San Francisco for Distribution of UASI Grant Funds for Urban Shield and the Berkeley Police Department’s Relationship with Northern California Regional Intelligence Center. We are confident that you are taking seriously the potential impact and gravity of this decision.

We can also imagine that, given your role and responsibilities as mayor, part of your decision is weighing all the impacts that Tuesday’s vote will have related to other pressing issues for the residents of Berkeley. As progressives, we know that you are also weighing the significance of this vote for the Bay Area, California, nationally and internationally. As you can empathize, we, of course, similarly feel the weight of this vote.

We are living, leading and organizing in a moment where the middle ground is rapidly disappearing. As white supremacy, true fascism, extreme xenophobia and Islamophobia, climate change denial, privatization, attacks on civil liberties and rights are escalating – while cries for an intensification of military attacks, surveillance and use of force are heard from the right wing and the alt right forces that support them – we are looking for bold alternatives.

Given the precarious political moment facing communities all across the country and people across the globe, we know that all eyes are on Berkeley. Those of us who live and serve communities in Berkeley and those who live in neighboring communities or even farther away have felt heartened and inspired by your progressive voice and stance in a time when the violence of the far right, elected or not, is knowing fewer and fewer bounds.

Progressive people everywhere are identifying Berkeley as a potential shining example to resisting the right’s attacks and agenda. As we strive to support and build progressive electoral victories, people are looking to Berkeley’s solidarity stances and legislative examples. And people are asking everyday, “How can we help Berkeley?”

After clearing protesters from the stage, Berkeley police – militarized in their minds and equipment from prior involvement with Urban Shield – followed more protesters who were rallying outside the meeting place, a middle school, and attacked them. Urban Shield is supposed to protect Americans against terrorists; who are the terrorists here? – Photo: Brooke Anderson

Mayor Arreguin, we know you understand that ending police violence protecting immigrant and refugee sanctuary and civil liberties are central to the civil rights struggles of today. The issue of militarization of police, embodied in the decision Berkeley will make on Tuesday, is inextricably connected to the critical issues of alt-right violence, the federal government’s attacks on sanctuary cities, the continued killings of Black and Brown people by police, mass incarceration and other social and economic inequities. We need you to stand firm on this issue.

If you are able lead Berkeley away from Urban Shield, we are confident that support and initiative from progressive individuals and organizations will grow exponentially. This will send a message of a clear commitment to humanization and humanitarian responses to crises over militarization and authoritarian responses.

Now, more than ever, progressive elected officials need to be working as part of broad-based movements for civil and human rights, peace and justice. We want to build that with you.

However, if you are not able to stand firm on Tuesday, we worry that the networks of support that want to pour positive and affirming energy and resources behind you and the City of Berkeley will be uncertain that they have the ally we think we have and want to have in you and others on the City Council. In these times, we cannot afford confusion and hesitation.

Pulling away from Urban Shield will be a literal and symbolic example that will have powerful resonance for progressive forces and will help strengthen our communities in Berkeley, in Alameda County, in California and beyond. We trust that you can make the right decision.

In solidarity,

Naomi Klein, author, social activist and filmmaker
Alicia Garza, Black Lives Matter co-founder
Junot Diaz, author
Kali Akuno, Cooperation Jackson
and the Stop Urban Shield Coalition:
AROC: Arab Resource & Organizing Center
Black Alliance for Just Immigration
Critical Resistance Oakland
Xicana Moratorium Coalition
American Friends Service Committee
Anti-Police Terror Project
Catalyst Project
Ella Baker Center
Friends of Sabeel North America
Haiti Action Committee
International Coalition for Human Rights in the Phillippines
International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network
Jewish Voice for Peace – Bay Area
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
Palestinian Youth Movement
Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism
War Resisters League