Anti-Urban Shield activists want alternatives to militarized police
on September 29, 2016
Activists from the Stop Urban Shield coalition and members of the community met on September 19 to discuss ways to combat the annual federally-funded Urban Shield disaster-preparedness training, which they say promotes repressive policing tactics.
The meeting took place at the West Oakland Youth Center just ten days after 23 protesters were arrested while blocking the entrances to the Alameda County Fair Grounds, the site of this year’s Urban Shield.
“That’s the sexy part,” said Sagnicthe Salazar of Xicana Moratorium Coalition, which has been part of Stop Urban Shield for three years. “The less sexy part is doing the aftermath work.”
The meeting moved quickly to the latter as some 50 people broke into small groups to discuss ways to convince the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to defund Urban Shield in a new round of funding the board will be requesting by October 14, and to explore alternative, community-led approaches to crisis response.
Urban Shield, which is in its tenth year, is an annual multi-day training event and law enforcement exposition, which holds exercises designed to test the Bay Area’s capacity to respond to major urban disasters, particularly those related to terrorism. The event draws law enforcement, military, and first responder personnel from all over the country, as well as internationally, who participate in the training exercises alongside Bay Area law enforcement agencies.
Stop Urban Shield argues that the training promotes the militarization of local police and encourages a reliance on aggressive police approaches to community problems, often at the expense of preventative social policies and inclusive, community-oriented responses.
The program is funded by the Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Areas Security Initiative, which distributes money to “high-threat, high-density Urban Areas” for terrorism-related emergency preparedness. In past years, over a quarter of the funds received by the Bay Area’s branch of the initiative has gone towards funding Urban Shield.
In the next month, funding requests for grant money from the Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative are due. Stop Urban Shield’s immediate goal is to convince the Board of Supervisors to deny any requests by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office to fund Urban Shield and instead to use that money elsewhere.
Isaac Ontiveros, who has been involved with the coalition for several years, said he wanted activists to help provide alternatives “that take into account that emergencies do happen, but that we have the enthusiasm and the creativity to build responses to these things that don’t rely on militarized policing.”
In the facilitated groups, discussion centered on how to leverage participants’ connections to local politicians and other activist groups, as well as how to improve community response to emergencies.
“How come we need to separate the community from the first responders? What if the community was the first responder?” asked Nadia Spearing, who came to the meeting from San Mateo. “I think a large part of the problem is we have police policing communities that are not their own, we have first responders responding in communities that are not their own.”
The participants examined models of community-based response, such as Oakland’s People’s Community Medics, a volunteer program that provides basic first aid training to residents to diminish their reliance on city-based emergency services. The latter have faced criticism for delayed response in parts of Oakland.
Jennifer Moghannam, who related her group’s discussion to the other participants, said that they had discussed extending the model of community-based intervention to defuse other emergency situations, such as interpersonal conflicts, before police intervention was required.
“There was the idea of having community de-escalation and triage teams, so you’d call them directly instead of 911,” she said.
The issue of police response to mental health-related incidents also arose several times, with activists stressing the idea of separating non-violent mental health concerns and other lesser emergencies from 911 police response.
“Sometimes you call 911 and say you don’t need police, and they send the SWAT team anyway,” said Moghannam. “So having a line that’s more related to like mental health would be helpful.”
The meeting’s organizers emphasized the importance of taking concrete steps towards realizing the goals discussed.
“We want to get a commitment from each and every one of you that you’ll bring in more people, so that Friday [the September 9 protest] isn’t a one-off accomplishment,” said Lara Kiswani of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, which is part of the Coalition.
Gerald Smith, who came as a member of the Oscar Grant Committee Against Police Brutality and State Repression, felt similarly. He said he agreed with the ideas behind Stop Urban Shield.
But, he said, “the problem is that ideas do not move an ignorant, apathetic society. We need organization.”
Correction: On October 6th, this story was updated to correct the process for requesting Urban Shield funding.
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