A member of the Israeli Special Police Force participating in an ‘exercise’ at the 2010 Urban Shield in Alameda County (Photo: PoliceMag)SWAT teams, police forces, and military contractors from across the world will converge in Oakland, California this weekend—October 25-28—for a little-known ‘Urban Shield’ global training exercise and weapons technology expo that is bankrolled by millions of dollars from the Department of Homeland Security and arms manufacturers and is billed as a program to fight ‘terrorism.’Urban Shield promotional material on the Cytel Inc. website (Image: Cytel Inc.)
They will be met on Friday by protesters from over 30 Bay-Area community and peace and justice organizations who say this gathering, that stands at the nexus of global and domestic militarization, is not welcome in their city.
“What Urban Shield represents to us is the epitome of state repression that has been impacting communities of color and immigrant communities for decades,” said Lara Kiswani of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center in an interview with Common Dreams. “Different strategies of surveillance against Arabs and Muslims and brown and black people are being used as tactics against our people back home. This is the militarization of the police.”
Coordinated this year by Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern, whose office is receiving $7.5 million in federal grants according to the War Resisters League, Urban Shield is a national effort overseen by a California-based private firm Cytel Inc. It is hosted by the Bay Area Urban Security Initiative that has been building collaboration between California police departments since 2006 and raking in Homeland Security funding since 2011. Its location moves annually.
Despite its global scope, the event has largely moved forward without the consent or knowledge of local residents and even some city council members.
SWAT Teams will hail from countries including Israel, Bahrain, Brazil, Guam and Qatar. As Max Blumenthal of Mondoweiss points out, past participants have included the Israeli Border Police Unit Yamam, which carries out extra-judicial assassinations of Palestinians, as well as Bahraini units that play a key role in violently repressing the country’s ongoing mass protests.
Attendees will carry out war games in Alameda County, as well as sample products from companies that produce tear gas, spying and surveillance systems, and military weapons.
As the East Bay Express notes, in addition to hefty federal backing, sponsors also include major arms companies including ATK, which produces depleted uranium ammunition. Numbered among its sponsors is the company Safariland, which the Facing Tear Gas Campaign of the War Resisters League has criticized for exporting tear gas to governments across the world, from Oakland to Israel to Tunisia, to be used as tools of repression and social control.
According to the War Resisters League, Ahern test flew a drone at last year’s Urban Shield, prompting him to move forward with plans to purchase drones for Alameda County.
“The United States exports repression globally,” said Kiswani. “The way the occupations in the Arab world repress people, and Israel represses the people of Palestine, these are the same strategies used against communities of color and poor people at home.”
“We see events like Urban Shield as one of the main engines of militarization of the police and everyday life,” said Ali Issa of the War Resisters League in an interview with Common Dreams today.
As Urban Shield opens Friday so will a community protest, which will feature the testimony of Oakland residents who have directly faced violence and abuse at the hands of police. Organizers will also present statements from pro-democracy activists in Bahrain, Palestine, Canada, and Turkey.
California resident Dionne Smith-Downes told Common Dreams that she plans to protest the militarization of U.S. police that she says has tragically touched her own life. “My unarmed son was shot with military weapons by the police,” she said. “I feel that military weapons should not be used in a community.”
“Pressuring those that have the most to gain from the militarization of US police like Safariland—and letting people know that these companies have ties to everyday products like phones, bikes, and public universities—is going to be the most effective way to roll this police-state process back,” said Issa.
“The Bay Area has a long legacy of organizing against police violence,” Kiswani declared. “We are making those links and trying to raise awareness in our own communities and across communities. We must be prepared to protect our communities in the face of these repression strategies.”
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Posted on 24 October 2013.
Descending on Oakland, California, tomorrow, Friday, Oct. 25th, 2013, and in town through the weekend, are thousands of people who subsist on theft under the guise of protection. Their goal? To test out new hardware, train for the bogeyman of terrorism, and perpetuate the fear-paradigm upon which their relevancy is directly tied. The event is called Urban Shield, and not all aware of the training and trade show believe it a good thing, as its organizers contest.
I learned of Urban Shield last week when in Oakland – the fourth stop on the Police Accountability Tour.
Funded by a Department of Homeland Security grant, which notes as its purpose to “purchase surveillance equipment, weapons, and advanced training for law enforcement personnel in order to heighten security,” present at the event will be individuals who work at a few dozen federal outfits such as FBI, DEA, and ATF, over 100 police, fire and sheriff outfits, and an even longer list of so called “Public/Private Partners”.
In a scene reminiscent of lobbyists in DC wining and dining political actors in the hope of landing a big contract on the dime of others, one of the “partners” of this Urban Shield – M11 Tactical, which profits by selling police outfits attire and accessories, is footing the lunch bill for attendees. How gracious.
The event is hosted by those at the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office
From the Urban Shield site:
Over 4,500 persons were involved in the event as participants, role players, volunteers, and observers. Early interest in the 2013 Urban Shield exercise indicates that the there will be more agencies participating this year. . . Throughout the duration of the full scale training exercise participating teams are provided with state of the art technology, tactically inserted into the scenarios, allowing teams to evaluate the products effectiveness and provide the vendors with essential critical feedback on their products
It’s unsurprising that many in Oakland don’t welcome the weekend foray. From the write-up Oakland Council Gets Earful Over ‘Urban Shield’ War Games by Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston:
a group of activists from across Alameda County are raising cane about Oakland playing host to what they characterize as “war games.” At the council’s Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting in City Hall, community members surprised councilmembers during an otherwise routine approval of $200,000 in reimbursement to the fire department for its participation in the exercise. Opponents called Urban Shield a “militarized” training for police. . .
Andrea Pritchett, a founding member of Berkeley Copwatch, commented on Urban Shield’s melding of anti-terrorism and active shooter training with fire and rescue operations. “There’s a conflation between disaster preparedness and military war game scenarios,” Pritchett said.
From Police ready for protests as Urban Shield event starts on Occupy Oakland’s second anniversary, coverage by Matthew Artz:
While Urban Shield 2013 is designed to prepare first responders to better handle terrorist attacks and natural disasters, critics say it’s accelerating the militarization of local police departments — a trend they think helps explain the violent police response to the Occupy protests two years ago.
From the Urban Shield entry at Oakland Wiki:
In recent years, security forces from Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan have participated in Urban Shield. The competition consists of live-action scenarios such as hostage-holding terrorists, active gunmen, bomb threats, chemical weapons attacks, and catastrophic fires.
Is this sort of inter-departmental, top-down training necessary? Is the equipping of police outfits with paramilitary gear and hardware and mindsets really conducive to a free society? Are the threats cited as justification for the event and the move of police closer to soldiers legitimate?
And why is Oakland – a place where the police have been so consistently heavy-handed that it’s under the oversight of a federal judge – the place where it’s thought good to host such a conference? It’s like rewarding a bully with an ice cream – there’s no deterrent to stop the aggressive behavior and in fact events like this only reinforce the divide many who wear badges believe exists between themselves and “citizens” they claim to protect (though actions repeatedly show they’re trained to put themselves first, to shoot and ask questions later, to be sure to ‘get home to the fam’ rather than diffuse a situation).
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