From September 7 through September 11, the Alameda County Fairgrounds will host Urban Shield, a four-day weapons expo and convention followed by two days of war-game exercises held throughout the Bay Area. This is the largest SWAT training in the United States. It is paid for by the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), a federally funded program with a budget over $2 million. Last year Alameda County received $6,358,300 from UASI with a commitment to spend $1.7 million of it on Urban Shield. Additional costs were assumed by Alameda County.
In January the Alameda Board of Supervisors unanimously approved $5.5 million in federal emergency preparedness funding, most of which will join UASI monies, to pay for Urban Shield 2017.
“Urban” is dog whistle for people of color, LGBTQI, and poor whites. Urban Shield is about controlling these neighbors, like in Ferguson or Baltimore. That’s urban security. Remember the skunk gas used at Standing Rock? Israeli-made and Urban Shield–displayed. None of these techniques are employed in wealthier, whiter suburbs.
Many of the tools of military repression displayed at Urban Shield are employed overseas before being used at home. For example, back in 1999, Hewlett-Packard subsidiary EDS developed “the Basel System,” a biometric identification system which uses facial, fingerprint, and retinal data at the checkpoints in Palestine. Donald Trump has called for “biometric entry-exit tracking systems” for all travelers to the U.S.A. The Office of Biometric Identity Management, a division of Homeland Security, employs state-level identity bureaus in using biometrics for verifying innocent people, like folks seeking driver’s licenses. Protesters have had their biometric data gathered by DHS. At least thirty-five states are currently collecting biometric data from travelers. In Southern California, there are checkpoints deep into San Diego, Imperial, Orange, and Riverside counties. All of this is made possible by a fear-based culture and marketing events like Urban Shield.
Urban Shield was started by Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern in 2007. He is a loud proponent of military culture and the use of violence against civilians. Ahern has gone to Israel to officially receive training in counterterrorism tactics. The citizens of Alameda County have asked him to stop working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He has refused. His office has settled lawsuits over jail conditions in the women’s lockup and he has had to defend his use of drones in Alameda County, one of the first counties to use these devices for spying on citizens. Little wonder he actively supports militarizing the police for use against the poor, LGBTQI, and people of color.
War games in the streets of Oakland raised such a stink that in 2014 the people of Oakland forced Urban Shield to relocate out of Oakland. It was moved to the Alameda County Fairgrounds. The next step is to get them out of Alameda County—all the way out.
This year, more than 100 community members, bearing petitions signed by over 1,500 Alameda County residents, pressured the Board of Supervisors into banning vendors from using overt racism to sell their wares, such as last year’s “black guns matter,” and banned the participation of international police from countries with ongoing human rights violations, with the usual exception of Israel and Saudi Arabia. This is far from sufficient, and resistance will continue. The Stop Urban Shield Coalition is organizing for September 2017. To join them, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, go to their Facebook page, or tweet them at #StopUrbanShield.
“Rise up children, shake the devil out your soul.” —Traditional spiritual