SWAT teams, military contractors and law enforcement from the world over are gathering this weekend in Oakland, CA for the annual event Urban Shield, a training and weapons expo made possible by the Department of Homeland Security and arms manufacturers.
Urban Shield, coordinated by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, exists under the guise of fighting terrorism and “disaster preparedness” in heavily-populated areas. The event is partly a trade show for a myriad militarized tactical gear and weapons, but there are also training exercises and war-game competitions that teams from California to Guam to Qatar will take part in this weekend. The exercises include protest suppression techniques and SWAT-team-raid simulations.
Past participants in the simulations include the counter-terrorism Israeli Border Police Unit Yamam, which allegedly conducts extra-judicial assassinations of Palestinians, journalist Max Blumenthal has reported. In addition, Bahrain police units, which have devastated its country’s ongoing peaceful protests against the monarch in recent years, have participated in Urban Shield events.
The event is ultimately overseen by a California-based private firm Cytel Inc. and is hosted by the Bay Area Urban Security Initiative (UASI), a law enforcement coalition representing Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, and ten Bay Area Counties.
According to East Bay Express, UASI receives its funding from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which has given the Bay Area’s police forces millions of dollars since 2009 to fund the annual event and other projects.
In 2012, DHS gave half a billion dollars to police departments in 31 metro regions across the US to “address the unique planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercise needs of high-threat, high-density urban areas,” according to the DHS website.
For this year’s event, the Alameda Sheriff’s received $7.5 million in federal funding, according to the War Resisters League.
“What Urban Shield represents to us is the epitome of state repression that has been impacting communities of color and immigrant communities for decades,” Lara Kiswani, of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, told 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.”
As US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have waned, major weapons manufacturers have turned to militarizing police units for a new source of revenue. Major names that have provided the US and others with arms – Lockheed Martin, ATK and Colt, among a few – are helping sponsor this year’s Urban Shield.
ATK (Alliant Techsystems) is the Pentagon’s largest supplier of munitions, including depleted uranium munitions.
Colt makes firearms for the military and law enforcement, advertising their wares as such: “From the jungles of Vietnam to the burning sands of the Middle East, Colt weapons have been combat tested under the most extreme conditions by the U.S. armed forces.”
Lockheed, arguably the most powerful military contractor in the world, did $47 billion in business in 2012, much of which came from the US government, including funding for the massively-priced F-35 program.
With US-favored contractors present and the amount the US has offered to pay for the conference, as journalist Rania Khalek pointed out, “that means the federal government is essentially financing a major marketing opportunity for companies invested in police militarization and criminal justice privatization.”
Other participants include drone makers, crowd-control experts, DNA-gathering device makers, tear-gas exporters and armored-vehicle manufacturers.
“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.”
The event will draw committed protests that aim to point out the connections between police militarization and the dangers to the communities they patrol.
“We see events like Urban Shield as one of the main engines of militarization of the police and everyday life,” Ali Issa of the War Resisters League told Common Dreams.
A coalition of 20 anti-police brutality groups around the Bay area have united for the Facing Urban Shield Action Network to organize protests against the gathering.
“The Bay Area has a long legacy of organizing against police violence,” Kiswani said. “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.”
Organizers will also offer statements from pro-democracy activists in Bahrain, Palestine, Canada and Turkey.
“My unarmed son was shot with military weapons by the police,” protester Dionne Smith-Downes told Common Dreams, saying her son died from his wounds. “I feel that military weapons should not be used in a community.”
AFP Photo Credit / Kimihiro Hoshino