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Opponents of Bay Area Police Training Center Mobilize for Palestine

Stop Cop City Bay Area organizers say their fight for abolition is intertwined with Palestinian liberation.

Police make arrests during a pro-Palestine rally at Union Square in San Francisco, California, on December 23, 2023.

As momentum to stop the construction of the $43.6 million police training facility in San Pablo, California, grows among local organizers, so has the urgency to mobilize in support of Palestine. In January, the Stop Cop City Bay Area coalition organized a march and rally in the city’s plaza to unite the movement for a free Palestine with the need to divest from policing and surveillance both locally and abroad. The rally ended at the proposed construction site with a banner and mural that read, “From the Bay to Palestine: Stop Cop City.”

Local activists argue that in advocating for greater accountability and transparency in law enforcement, it is imperative to stand against the ongoing human rights violations that Palestinians face under Israeli occupation.

After 149 days of continuous bombardment, the Israeli military has unleashed more than 29,000 bombs, killing more than 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza. A report by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health projected that Palestinians could suffer 58,000 excess deaths over the next six months if Israel maintains its bombing and siege and 74,000 if it escalates it.

In early February, the Senate approved a $95 billion foreign aid spending package for Ukraine and Israel, which is still awaiting a House vote. Activists say that along with the U.S.’ unrelenting support for Israel, the U.S. has seen a rise in militarized police training facilities all across the country and that the fight for abolition here is intertwined with Palestinian liberation.

In a workshop hosted by the National Lawyers Guild, researcher Renee Johnston released national data outlining that, as of Feb. 17, at least 69 police training facilities have either been planned or built across the U.S. San Pablo’s “Cop City” has already been approved for construction; however, activists say that the goal now is to educate and mobilize community opposition.

Dayton Andrews, an educator from San Francisco and member of the Stop Cop City coalition, argues that it’s not possible to stop construction with direct action alone. Instead, it requires consistent community engagement and mobilization.

“If we don’t mobilize the people, if we don’t educate them, if we don’t get them out on the streets, there’s no way we can stop Cop City,” Andrews said.

San Pablo, located about 30 minutes northeast of San Francisco, is a working-class and immigrant community. Activists worry that Cop City will come with increased criminalization.

Camila, a San Pablo educator born and raised in the city who asked to withhold her last name, emphasized these risks.

“I think that all of us in San Pablo are either Black, brown, or undocumented, and so everyone has an understanding that police presence is an unsafe risk for the community,” she said.

Alex Hanna is part of No Tech for Apartheid, a coalition of activists and workers demanding Google and Amazon end their contracts with the Israeli government. She argues that the technologies police departments use to target communities in San Pablo and across the country impact Palestinians in similar ways. Technologies such as Shotspotter, a gunshot detector, have documented cases of over-policing.

“They have bias because the devices are only installed in Black and brown communities, and that’s where police get pre-deployed,” she said. “And there’s a pretty strong structure of the [surveillance tech] industries between the U.S. and Israel, which are very similar.”

In spite of the repression that might come from the construction of a “Cop City” and the challenges in organizing against it, some organizers are using this moment to highlight the parallels between the movement for a free Palestine and the movement toward police abolition.

Katherine Lee, a Richmond youth organizer with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) was born and raised in San Pablo and now works with youth in Richmond and San Pablo to advocate for themselves and their community.

“Our young people don’t really have outlets to express themselves or spaces to be themselves in San Pablo and Richmond,” Lee said. “We’re definitely trying to strive to have more friendly spaces for youth to be who they want to be and create and explore their artistic and creative side without being looked at by police as loitering or other negative things like that.”

Lee shared that in light of the atrocities happening in Palestine, APEN’s youth have shifted focus to organize and advocate around Palestine solidarity. A coalition of students, workers, and Bay Area allies held an action in early February at the Chevron refinery in Richmond to demand an end to Chevron’s complicity with Israel. Lily, an APEN youth activist, spoke at the rally and made the connection between how their family fled U.S.-sponsored wars and how their community in Richmond, a neighboring city to San Pablo, is uniting for Palestinian liberation.

“We are hundreds, we are millions, we are billions standing against this genocide,” Lily said at the rally. “I stand with the Palestinian people because nobody should have to experience bombs falling on them or be made to flee the place they call home. I am also proud to be here today as someone from Richmond, the first city in the country to call for a resolution in support of Palestine.”

On Oct. 24, Richmond, California, became the first city in the country to pass a resolution for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. The Stop Cop City coalition is currently working with local residents to push for a ceasefire resolution in San Pablo in combination with their advocacy against the Cop City.

As the U.S. invests largely in war overseas, activists are linking this to the tremendous growth in cop training facilities across the country.

“There’s this sort of international rising militarism, such as the war on Palestine, and the domestic aspect is these rising Cop Cities,” Andrews said. “And we’re really trying to put forward that these are both related things.”

Activists say that what also goes unaddressed are the resources that could be invested in outside of policing.

“If we can spend $43 million to increase police, then we could spend $43 [million] to increase joy, to increase community projects for wellness—not just about survival. We have survived, but we also deserve the privilege to use that money to thrive,” Camila said.

The Stop Cop City Bay Area coalition, in addition to canvassing the community, is planning to organize a town hall in April to educate residents about the Cop City and educate the community on the important connections between Palestine and San Pablo and why this moment encourages us all to mobilize.

“San Pablo residents are made up of immigrants, of caretakers, of doctors and families who are just really resilient,” Lee said. “And I think moving forward we definitely want to continue building our organizing and our people power to create a better San Pablo.”

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