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More than 500 activists lock down entrances to Urban Shield to stop the militarization of police

September 12, 2016

by Mohamed Shehk and Omar Ali

Protesters who had chained themselves together managed to hold on and keep the main entrance to the Alameda County Fairgrounds closed as 23 of the group of more than 500 were arrested. – Photo: Stop Urban Shield

Protesters who had chained themselves together managed to hold on and keep the main entrance to the Alameda County Fairgrounds closed as 23 of the group of more than 500 were arrested. – Photo: Stop Urban Shield

Pleasanton – On Friday, Sept. 9, activists chained themselves to the entrances to the Alameda County Fairgrounds to protest Urban Shield, the highly controversial SWAT training and weapons expo hosted annually by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department. Twenty-three activists were arrested, cited and released.

Over 500 community members from many cities across California, including Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sacramento, joined the Stop Urban Shield Coalition in a massive mobilization, march and rally that included powerful speakers, art, and musical and cultural performances. A broad coalition of grassroots community and social justice organizations, the Stop Urban Shield Coalition is amplifying the growing opposition to the militarization, policing, and violence in Black, Brown, and poor communities, and seeking to end Urban Shield.

On Friday, Sept. 9, activists chained themselves to the entrances to the Alameda County Fairgrounds to protest Urban Shield, the highly controversial SWAT training and weapons expo hosted annually by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department.

Urban Shield brings together police units from across the country for 48 consecutive hours of highly militarized scenarios, a program that activists condemn as promoting further violence and an increased war mentality by police in marginalized communities. It is funded by the Department of Homeland Security through a grant program called the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), one of many controversial “War on Terror” efforts.

Cops admire these “less lethal” weapons on display inside the Urban Shield expo that the photographer says “shoot pepper and glassbreaker rounds,” adding that sales are reportedly growing because of “recent events.” – Photo: Mary Noble

Cops admire these “less lethal” weapons on display inside the Urban Shield expo that the photographer says “shoot pepper and glassbreaker rounds,” adding that sales are reportedly growing because of “recent events.” – Photo: Mary Noble

Participants in Urban Shield also include armed forces from around the world, many of which have been accused of war crimes and human rights abuses. This year, Urban Shield lists law enforcement units from Mexico and Taiwan. Israel, which is widely condemned for its abuses against the Palestinian population, has also been featured prominently in past trainings.

“When Urban Shield is bringing together repressive forces from all over the world to train with police here, we must stand together, work to end it, and fight policing and militarization here and everywhere.” said Nora Abedelal of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center.

The Stop Urban Shield Coalition, along with one of its members the War Resisters League, has been collecting the stories of survivors of SWAT raids in order to uplift the voices of people impacted by the practices that Urban Shield promotes. “Across the country, we are seeing a growing normalization of militarized policing and SWAT deployment against people of color, particularly Black communities,” said Woods Ervin of Critical Resistance.

“As a SWAT training program, Urban Shield is only expanding the violence that people face at the hands of police, and must be stopped immediately.” In the 1980s, there were roughly 3,000 SWAT raids a year; today, that number is up to 50,000. According to an ACLU report, Black people are up to 40 times more likely to be impacted by SWAT raids than white people.

“When Urban Shield is bringing together repressive forces from all over the world to train with police here, we must stand together, work to end it, and fight policing and militarization here and everywhere.” said Nora Abedelal of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center.

The coalition will continue to organize to amplify widespread opposition to Urban Shield, and militarization of police more broadly. They are planning a large town hall event in Oakland in the coming weeks focused on alternatives to Urban Shield.

Mohamed Shehk of Critical Resistance can be reached at mohamed@criticalresistance.org and Omar Ali of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center at omar@araborganizing.org.

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