BERKELEY SHOULD NOT PARTICIPATE IN THE MILITARIZED-POLICE ASPECTS OF URBAN SHIELD
Urban Shield has been staged yearly in Alameda County since 2007. The grant money to manage it flows from the Department of Homeland ultimately to the Alameda County Sheriff who is responsible for all aspects of the extravaganza. The terms of the grant money stipulate that everything associated with UASI (and hence Urban Shield) must have “a nexus to terrorism” – an important criticism.
Urban Shield has three parts: A weapons and equipment expo, a set of presentations, seminars and talks, much like other conventions, and a set of training exercises. Some of the training exercises are for non-police emergency responders, while others, the ones most objected to, are for police department SWAT teams. These SWAT teams, from around the Bay, the country and the world compete for points as they move from scenario to scenario.
For a number of years the expo and convention were held in downtown Oakland at the Marriott Convention Center, owned by the City of Oakland (the training exercises take place at field locations all over the Bay Area). After significant protests staged outside the event in 2013 and 2014, numerous unfavorable press articles and some prodding from Congressperson Barbara Lee, the City of Oakland announced that it would no longer continence holding Urban Shield at the convention center.
In 2015 Urban Shield was moved to the County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton, CA, where it was staged in 2016 as well – this time to another large protest, organized by the Stop Urban Shield Coalition, resulting in multiple arrests.
To see a bit about what the protests were about – police militarization and a warrior mentality, here are front-page banners and pictures Urban Shield organizers have had on their websites showing SWAT teams in action.
And here are some of the company names of some of vendor participants:
- International Armored Group – “We offer over 75 models of commercial armored vehicles, as well as, a wide variety of special purpose tactical armored vehicles for Military and Law Enforcement.”
- Mile High Shooting Accessories – “Your One Stop Shop For All Your Shooting Needs”
- Gladiator Solutions, Inc
- Armor Express
- Point Blank Enterprises
- ProForce Law Enforcement
- Suppressed Armament Systems
- Voodoo Tactical
In late 2016, coincident with the Age of Trump, political pressure against Urban Shield organized by the Stop Urban Shield Coalition and abetted by Oakland Privacy became more intense, focused on Alameda County.
In early 2017 the Alameda County Board of Supervisors took the measure of Urban Shield, seriously considering whether to deny approval of the acceptance of the funds to stage it. After some six hours of testimony, hours of it by the Sheriff and other law enforcement personnel extolling Urban Shield, along with about a hundred concerned citizens uniformly testifying against it, the Board voted on a proposal by Supervisor Keith Carson that
- a) Set up a seventeen person committee to investigate Urban Shield
- b) Continued to fund it for this year
- c) Created a set of principles and conditions guiding the staging of Urban Shield.
These principles address some of the egregious outrages of past Urban Shield events, including the vending of racist t-shirts and surveillance equipment, exercises obviously targeted against religious, ethnic and political groups, crowd control training aimed at civil protest activities , invitations to foreign countries with problematic human rights records like Bahrain, Morocco, Mexico and Israel and the lack of de-escalation training.
Urban Shield and Society.
Urban Shield does not exist in a vacuum. It exists within and as part of the rise of militarized policing, the surveillance state and mass incarceration in the United States. As such it has become a symbol of these problems to many in the Bay Area, along with concretely being part of the problem. Eliminating Berkeley’s participation in the policing aspects of Urban Shield will have both very concrete results and create significant symbolic effects.
For deep background on these issues we recommend highly enough The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. https://www.amazon.com/New-Jim-Crow-Incarceration-Colorblindness/dp/1595586431.
For an understanding of militarized policing, The Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces by Radley Balko, https://www.amazon.com/Rise-Warrior-Cop-Militarization-Americas-ebook/dp/B00B3M3UFQ (the Amazon description provides a good, succinct summary), and Do Not Resist, a documentary film directed by Craig Atkinson that was shown in the Bay Area last fall. It is available for viewing via Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Do-Not-Resist-Craig-Atkinson/dp/B01MROLPBH/ref=va_dp_rp_1_B01KPCD3FQ, Itunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/do-not-resist/id1155645735?mt=6&ign-mpt=uo%3D4, and elsewhere.
The just-published expose’ of SWAT team raids in the New York Times is also relevant:
Door Busting Drug Raids Leave a Trail of Blood. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/03/18/us/forced-entry-warrant-drug-raid.html?_r=0
And these vignettes may also be of interest:
- The following oft-cited incredible statistic:
“SWAT team use has spiked from around 3,000 strikes per year in 1980 to as many as 80,000 raids a year now. A battering ram or other forced-entry device is used in two-thirds of these raids, nearly 80 percent of which target private homes…” http://theweek.com/articles/531458/troubling-rise-swat-teams
- This comic strip:
When people speak out against Urban Shield, and in particular its training of SWAT units, those are the reference points they are starting from.
What Should Be Done.
A crucial point is that proposed changes to Urban Shield, such as the principles enumerated by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, came about not because of any change of heart on the part of the organizers, but because AND ONLY BECAUSE political pressure had become so intense that there was a real danger that Urban Shield would not be funded.
Organizers did not throw objectionable t-shirt vendors out of the 2014 expo. T-shirts such as:
It is only because intrepid reporters snuck into the expo, took pictures, published them, and then activists used them in presentations to Boards and City Councils that organizers finally decided, years later, that they had to go.
We find it difficult to believe that those who organized Urban Shield thought “Oh, all our training involves taking down alleged terrorists, shooters and protesters; perhaps we really should think about including de-escalation training!” Again, it was only repeated hammering in public testimony about the lack of any de-escalation scenarios as people spo0ke against Urban Shield that may well cause some such scenarios to be part of Urban Shield 2017.
What’s likely happening is that Urban Shield organizers are acting like an “Old Boys” network, forced to recruit a few women and create anti-harassment policies – while not really changing. Urban Shield has had and almost certainly retains its atmosphere of machismo and white privilege, continuing to be a house of worship for militarized weapons and tactics, a playground for wanna-be Special Forces.
Even if one believes that Berkeley’s police do not absorb this, they should not be in the middle of it. Whatever benefits police might derive from Urban Shield training do not outweigh these concerns. Cause and effect are hard to establish, but it seems reasonable to believe that a significant contribution to what happened in late 2014 on the streets of Berkeley…
…was in part a result of Urban Shield training and its not-so-subtle ‘warrior’ messaging, both direct and indirect.
For all these reasons:
- Berkeley Police participation in Urban Shield for 2017 should be forbidden, with evaluation for future expos once the report of the Alameda County committee is available.
Alternative training scenarios should be considered!
While any scenario is possible, the most serious threat to Berkeley residents would seem to be issues around the aftermath of a major earthquake. What about prioritizing having Berkeley police drill repeatedly with other Berkeley emergency responders on what might occur after a serious quake? Insofar as it seems like BPD has already gone through somewhere around 10 Urban Shield exercise sets on saboteurs, terrorists, shooters and such, this seems more valuable.
One of Berkeley’s biggest problems is dealing with the mentally ill. What about prioritizing having all of Berkeley’s police train repeatedly on non-violent techniques for resolving mental health incidents, working out how mental health professionals can get to such incidents as quickly as police? It is not enough just to remember Kayla Moore, a mentally troubled woman who died after an interaction with Berkeley police in 2013.
Berkeley needs to continue, strengthen and emphasize de-escalation training, and extend it to emphasis on withdrawal rather than confrontation, and to lessons on disarming people with weapons such as knives and clubs instead of shooting them. It is impossible to watch the video of Mario Woods executed by a firing squad of SF police (e.g., https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ij5TZuohoRg) without being sick and wanting to make sure no such thing happens here.
Berkeley can halt its police participation in Urban Shield and now is the time.