On Friday, around 300 protesters blocked Broadway between 9th and 11th streets in downtown Oakland, protesting the second day of the eighth annual Urban Shield convention.
The event could not have occurred at a more timely moment. Only a few weeks after images of SWAT teams in riot gear pointing military-grade assault rifles towards peaceful protesters and arresting dozens in the streets brought the hyper-militarization of the police to national attention, the Urban Shield convention is taking place in downtown Oakland, bringing together law enforcement forces from around the world for a two-day trade show followed by a series of trainings taking place throughout the Bay Area.
Funded by the Urban Areas Security Initiative, a Department of Homeland Security grant designed to help communities prepare for natural disasters or terrorism attacks, Urban Shield prides itself in bringing together top-tier police forces — including those from Israel, Bahrain, Qatar, Brazil, and this year, South Korea and Singapore — and training them using the latest in policing and emergency-response technology. However, though the event bills itself as a “disaster-preparedness training exercise” and is largely credited for an efficient response to the Boston marathon bombings in 2013, many local activists fear that both the trainings and the trade show are fostering excessive police militarization, under the guise of emergency-preparedness.
Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer attended yesterday’s trade show; many of his tweets confirm these suspicions.
Late Friday, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan announced in a press conference that the convention will not be returning to Oakland next year.
Despite the victory, many activists recognize that resisting events like Urban Shield, and other manners of police militarization will be a long battle. Since beginning in Oakland, Urban Shield has expanded to Boston and parts of Texas is only growing. While a long-overdue federal review of the 1033 Program — which provides military-style equipment to local police — is underway, many political lobbies, such as the National Tactical Officers Association will be hard-pressed to curb this activity.
The activists in the Stop Urban Shield Coalition are prepared for the fight.
“We aim to dismantle all police militarization programs: Urban Shield, UASI, 1033, 1122 and Fusion Centers,” noted Tara Tabassi, national organizer for the War Resisters League, one of many groups in the coalition opposing Urban Shield.
“Achieving that though, we would still be faced with the mentality of police militarization, domestically and globally,” Tabassi said. “Occupation is not just about weapons, whether in Ferguson or Palestine. It exists because the present social order requires it, and that’s why we are seeing a movement growing — from Boston to the Bay — that gets to the roots of the problem by demanding community self-determination.”