Turn Urban Shield into a peacetime mobilization

by Ann Garrison

Bay Area activists have been objecting to Urban Shield, the nation’s largest Homeland Security-funded weapons expo and counter-terrorism drill, since 2013. In the last five years, Oakland kicked it out of the city and dozens of people were arrested protesting on its perimeter.

Black-Rifles-Matter’-top-selling-T-shirt-Urban-Shield-Expo-2015, Turn Urban Shield into a peacetime mobilization, Local News & Views
“Black Rifles Matter” is a best-selling t-shirt at the Urban Shield weapons expo and counterterrorism drill held annually in Alameda County, California.

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors twice convened a task force to consider the community’s objections and passed two different resolutions to rein in the event’s abuses. On Tuesday, Feb. 26, at 11 a.m., the board will meet to consider task force recommendations to change the event from a SWAT-focused police militarization convention to a natural disaster-focused community recovery and resilience event. I spoke to Media Alliance Executive Director Tracy Rosenberg, who has been working to convert the event to a peacetime mobilization since 2014.

Ann Garrison: Tracy, if the board accepts the task force recommendations, what will change?

Tracy Rosenberg: If the board accepts all of the recommendations – and there are a lot of them – the biggest changes would be first, an end to the weapons expo, which funneled the latest and greatest military-style hardware to local police.

Second, an end to the SWAT drills in favor of more fire, more public health and less violent policing scenarios that aren’t scored competitively.

Last, redirecting millions of dollars of federal emergency preparedness money away from counterterrorism and towards public health and social services.

AG: How likely is it the Board will accept the recommendations?

TR: The board passed a resolution in the spring of 2018, authored by Berkeley rep Keith Carson, to end Urban Shield as currently constituted. I don’t think anyone knows exactly what it means. What we do know is that the Sheriff’s Department has been working hard – posts all over Next Door, for example – to preserve Urban Shield with just cosmetic changes. The event has a long history of racist stereotyping and reinforcing the excessive use of force, so this is an important moment in local criminal justice reform.

AG: How can Alameda County residents who want to end Urban Shield help?

TR: If your schedule permits, come to the meeting on the 26th. If not, write to the Board of Supes this weekend. You can find an email action on media-alliance.org that will make it easy or you can call your supervisor and leave a message on the voice mail this weekend. Urban Shield trains police departments all over the region, so this isn’t just an Alameda County issue. It affects all of us.

Tracy Rosenberg is the executive director of Media Alliance and a member of the Urban Shield Coalition.

Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at ann@kpfa.org.