San Francisco Bay area activists staged a dramatic demonstration in Oakland on Friday to call attention to the domestic war games and militarization of police set to take place at the annual Urban Shield conference this weekend.
An estimated 100 people "dressed in fake police uniforms, banging drums and chanting antiviolence slogans" reportedly took over an intersection near Lake Merritt to condemn the four-day law enforcement and first-responder training expo, which the Alameda County sheriff's office has hosted since 2007.
Demonstrators also carried signs that said "Stop Urban Shield" while a large banner hung above the street.
Called the largest "tactical exercise" in the nation, Urban Shield draws roughly 5,000 people from over 100 agencies from around the country and world and thrusts them into "lifelike scenarios" to allegedly train officers how to respond to natural disasters and mass casualty attacks.
Demonstrators say the event "plays a significant role in militarizing police, which leads to increased violence in many communities," particularly minority communities. The convention also serves as a marketplace for some of the latest—and some say most troubling— surveillance technologies on the market.
Others note that the emphasis on "counterterrorism" further entrenches the stigma against people of Middle Eastern descent.
"A lot of their trainings are based on stereotypes centered around counterterrorism under the guise of emergency preparation," Omar Ali, with the Arab Resource & Organizing Center of San Francisco, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "If a disaster strikes, what you need is a good community response, not an overmilitarized police response."
Community opposition last year drove Oakland's mayor at the time, Jean Quan, to allow Urban Shield's contract with the city to expire. Organizers hope this year's action will force the Alameda Board of Supervisors to do the same with regards to next year’s conference, and more broadly, deter other communities from welcoming the event.
"As communities around the country rise up demanding an end to racist police violence, it is now more important than ever to build upon our victories and work toward shutting down Urban Shield entirely," writes the grassroots group Stop Urban Shield.
The group continues: "While Urban Shield is just one front in the fight against the state's attempt to militarize every aspect of our lives—from its war-making here and abroad, to the increasing presence of police in our schools, to the systemic murder of Black and Brown people at the hands of police—stopping Urban Shield would be a major victory against this growing trend of militarization in cities everywhere, from Oakland to Ferguson to Baltimore."