After successfully campaigning to force the City of Oakland to stop hosting its annual Urban Shield convention in 2014, Stop Urban Shield, a broad coalition of west coast anti-police militarization organizations and activists, is now turning its efforts towards getting Urban Shield out of the Bay Area altogether. Urban Shield describes itself as “a planned training exercise involving local, national, and international first responder agencies.”
While this may not seem to raise any immediate cause for concern, the conference is also, according to Stop Urban Shield, the largest SWAT training and war-weapons expo in the world, bringing together “local, regional, and international police-military units to collaborate on and profit from new forms of surveillance, state repression, and state violence.” Although Urban Shield purports to be about maintaining public safety and increasing emergency preparedness, the reality is that it focuses largely on terrorism and ultimately “domesticate[s] ‘counter-terrorism’ training, policies and tactics,” which “builds militarized policing tactics and mentalities of local policing forces and other agencies locally and transnationally.”
The objections to Urban Shield are numerous, with particular emphasis on its blatant promotion and glorification of police militarization and government surveillance as well as its vilification of antiwar protestors as potential terrorists. Each year Urban Shield invites upwards of a hundred vendors to display and sell their new technology to any of the police and first responder organizations present. These vendors range from Fortune 100 corporations like Verizon to more specialized—and more openly pro-militarization—groups like Armored Mobility Inc. and Arms Unlimited. Vendors’ descriptions of their products include lines such as “biometric identification and electronic monitoring,” “ammunition and the Gun that Won the West” and “an armored vehicle platform […] specifically engineered and built around fully geared officers.” Much of the military-grade equipment being sold at Urban Shield is the same kind that was used to brutally suppress protestors in Ferguson and elsewhere in the U.S.
Urban Shield’s clear support for militarized police and the expansion of the surveillance state has drawn scores of protestors to its doors each year it has been hosted. Despite these efforts, however, the conference has continued to come to the Bay Area. Most of the protesting has been organized by local community organizations and members, with Stop Urban Shield declaring that even after preventing the expo from being held in Oakland, Urban Shield’s “activities still take place in Oakland, and the expo still happens in our backyard and still involves local agencies, local money and targets our local communities.”
Stop Urban Shield, in conjunction with numerous other local and regional activist organizations, has planned a series of events this year to work towards ending Urban Shield once and for all. The first of these took place on September 3 in the form of a teach-in under the title “Urban Warfare in Our Backyard?” at Mt. Doablo Unitarian Universalist Church. The next day saw a meeting at the Oakland Town Hall involving speakers, community testimonies, and an art exhibit addressing the question of “Why Should the Bay Area Say NO to Urban Shield?” On September 9 Stop Urban Shield organized leaflet and flyer distribution at two Bay Area Rapid Transit stations, and on September 11, the first day of the expo, held an anti-Urban Shield rally in front of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.