Energized by images of police armed with military hardware in Ferguson, MO, Bay Area activists are mobilizing to oppose the Urban Shield SWAT war games and firearms expo that is taking place in Oakland this weekend at the downtown Marriott.
Urban Shield is a four-day event that brings together law enforcement agencies from around the world — including Israel, Bahrain, Qatar, Brazil, Guam, South Korea and Singapore.< p>A two-day trade show on Thursday and Friday features the latest in policing and surveillance technology and is followed by two days of emergency-preparedness training exercises throughout the Bay Area.
The event is billed as a disaster-preparedness exercise and is funded by the Urban Areas Security Initiative, a Department of Homeland Security program that mandates 25 percent of its funding is allocated to counterterrorism activities.
Urban Shield began in Oakland eight years ago and has expanded to Boston, Austin and Dallas.
After weeks of protests in Ferguson, Missouri that followed the police killing of teenager Michael Brown, the militarization of local law enforcement has become a national concern. Prominent images showed police with armored vehicles, assault and sniper rifles and dressed in SWAT uniforms that resembled battle clothing.
Last week, the San Jose Police Department announced it is getting rid of its M-RAP, a military-grade vehicle designed to protect combat soldiers from roadside bombs, citing community concerns over an increasingly militarized police force. The Davis City Council has given its sheriff’s office 60 days to get rid of the city’s M-RAPs.
President Barack Obama has called for a federal review of the 1033 program, which has transferred more than $4 billion of military supplies to local police departments with no oversight.
Organizations endorsing protests against Urban Shield include: Critical Resistance
War Resisters League – Facing Tear Gas, the Bay Area Childcare Collective (BACC),
Iraq Veterans Against the War – San Francisco, Code Pink and Oakland Privacy Working Group.
Among the mayoral candidates taking a position against Urban Shield was Jason “Shake Anderson, who says Mayor Jean Quan is failing to show leadership around police accountability issues.
“Oakland has a long history of police repression,” he said. “Our officers don’t need more extreme training. The city needs leaders who are proactive, who don’t wait to react to the possibility of violence until after something happens.”
According to Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, bringing the “Urban Shield” weapons expo to Oakland is “an insult to all the important work that so many of us are doing to reduce violence” in the city.
Councilmember Libby Schaaf added, “The militarization of police is dangerous and destroys public trust – the last thing Oakland needs,” she said. “The vendor show connected with the exercise appears to promote this dangerous direction and is ill-suited for Oakland.”
However, Schaaf said, “I recognize that most of the exercises involve emergency response, which is incredibly important and beneficial for this region.”
Civil rights Attorney Dan Siegel said Urban Shield would not be coming to Oakland year after year if city leaders did not vote to help for it.
“Given the city’s disturbing history of brutal force against people of color and peaceful protestors – it is unacceptable to open our arms and welcome agencies that glorify violence, weaponry and militarized responses to the people of Oakland.”
“Last year, Urban Shield was met with community protest – and will be again,” he said. “Oakland residents have sent a clear message: No Urban Shield in Our City.”
For more information on Urban Shield, go to www.urbanshield.org/index.php/2012-urban-shield-exercise/fire-usar-hazmat