Held in Alameda County, California, since 2007, Urban Shield is considered the largest SWAT training and gear expo in the world. The program, subsidized by the Department of Homeland Security, is billed as a public safety and emergency preparedness exercise. But critics say that by focusing on violent scenarios and inviting weapons manufacturers to advertise their wares during the expo, Urban Shield promotes SWAT-style militarized policing.
The Los Angeles police department pioneered Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team policing during the 1965 Watts uprising. Since 9/11, mainly through Department of Defense’s 1033 program, the federal government has donated $40 billion worth of surplus military gear to police departments around the country. The results of such militarization were on display in 2014 when Ferguson, Missouri, authorities responded to people protesting the police killing of Michael Brown with armored trucks, riot gear, tear gas and rubber bullets. Research suggests that communities of color are most often the targets of militarized policing and that the more militarized police become, the more likely it is that they will use fatal violence.
Enter Stop Urban Shield, a multiracial, issue coalition led by the Arab Resource & Organizing Center, BAYAN USA, Critical Resistance Oakland and Xicana Moratorium Coalition. For five years, dozens of Stop Urban Shield members did direct actions such as banner drops, they spread the word via media and they confronted legislators. Finally, in late March, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to end Urban Shield in its current form. Colorlines caught up with key Stop Urban Shield organizers to find out what their victory means for the Bay Area and beyond.
Journalist Jorge Rivas follows the national conversation through the lens of racial, sexual, and political identity. His investigative stories and videos have been featured on ABC News, Univision, Splinter, The Nation, and Colorlines. He is a graduate of San Francisco State University, where he studied the history of Central Americans in California. He is based in Los Angeles.