The end of ‘Urban Shield’

From the May-June issue of News & Letters

Oakland, Calif.—For the past several years community organizations have been coming together to oppose “Urban Shield,” a military-style SWAT training and military weapons expo offered on Sept. 11 to police forces in the San Francisco Bay Area. Last year the protests shut down the first day of the expo. This year, we gathered at the Alameda County hearings to appropriate money for Urban Shield 2018. On March 27 we asked the county supervisors to de-fund the training to weaponize and militarize police.

Demonstration to end Urban Shield in San Francisco Bay Area, California, on March 27, 2018. Photo by Urszula Wislanka for News & Letters.

At a rally before the hearing representatives of several organizations spoke to the truth of policing. The Causa Justa/Just Cause speaker recounted several recent instances of police violence/abuse of power against immigrants. The Ghostship Fire survivor challenged Sheriff Gregory Ahern’s claim that Urban Shield prepares first responders for disasters. In fact, it prepares police to view the streets as a battle field, to treat dissenters—especially Black and brown dissenters—as enemies.

A Muslim nurse spoke to the fear a police uniform strikes in her and her daughter and against the growing militarization that targets people who look like her as terrorists. 67 Sueños (67 Dreams) said we need protection from unconstitutional policing; we need protection from a police state, the kind of state portrayed historically by the U.S. as “bad,” countries characterized by spying on citizens and suppressing dissent.

The hearing itself was packed. Not everyone who wanted to testify could even get into the room. While a few voices praised the Urban Shield training, an overwhelming number of people present spoke against it.

I said at the hearing: “I agree with an undersheriff who spoke of the need to build trust between the police and the community. That trust cannot be built by teaching police that when they are going into the community, they are entering a battle-field!

“That was the instruction given to the BART police when they were called to a disturbance at Fruitvale Station on Jan 1, 2009, which resulted in the death of Oscar Grant. Teaching police that the community is the enemy does not further trust. Defunding Urban Shield would be a good step toward telling police that Oakland residents are not enemy combatants!”

The majority of disasters in the area are not terrorist attacks, they are fires and medical emergencies, for which SWAT and military weapons training is not helpful. Such training actually interferes with providing an appropriate response.

As a result of the sustained opposition, the county supervisors voted to accept the $5 million from the Department of Homeland Security for the last time this year. After 2018 there will be no more “Urban Shield” in Alameda County!

—Urszula Wislanka

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