Bay Area program Urban Shield faces protest during weapons expo in Pleasanton

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Suyang Lu/File

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On Friday, activists disrupted a Pleasanton weapons exposition associated with Urban Shield, a Bay Area disaster training program that holds crisis simulations.

After the protest, activists delivered a report on the program to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. The report outlined the alleged negative social and economic outcomes of the program and suggested other ways for the county to spend its disaster preparedness funding. The county currently spends the bulk of a $5.9 million grant from a U.S. Department of Homeland Security initiative on the program, according to the report.

The Urban Shield program’s purpose is to assess regional preparedness for prevention and response regarding emergencies in an urban setting. The training program has been held in the Bay Area for 10 years, staging scenarios such as a passenger train crash, terrorist attacks and most recently a catastrophic earthquake.

Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel said that because of the program’s size, its quality of training “has never been replicated before.” He also said that because of the program’s medical training, all BPD officers now carry tourniquets.

“Some of the medical training has directly resulted in lives saved in Berkeley streets,” Frankel said.

The activists who disrupted the expo are a part of the Stop Urban Shield Coalition, which consists of several organizations such as the Arab Resource & Organizing Center and BAYAN USA. Their report stated that the program “perpetuate(s) racist and xenophobic stereotypes.”

According to Jenab-i Pareja, regional coordinator of BAYAN USA Northern California, the program’s alleged dissemination of military-style rhetoric against some groups also concerns him. He said the program promotes fear-mongering — according to Pareja, the program’s most popular T-shirt last year read, “Black Rifles Matter.”

Sharing the concern, Sharif Zakout, youth program director for the Arab Resource & Organizing Center, said the scenarios staged by Urban Shield are too militarized.

“We need to be critical about where our communities are hurting,” Zakout said. “We’ve never had an attack like (terrorism), but police have been killing people in our communities for the past couple of years.”

Zakout said that while the coalition is not opposed to first response in general, it objects to the program for its alleged militarization and profitization.

At UC Berkeley, the ASUC passed a resolution in February recommending that UCPD refrain from Urban Shield’s events. The resolution, primarily sponsored by former ASUC Senator Boomer Vicente, cites the program’s focus on offensive tactics rather than de-escalation tactics as a reason to cease UCPD’s involvement with the program.

“It makes me particularly uncomfortable that (UCPD) takes part in training that had so much racial bias,” Vicente alleged.

Despite the ASUC recommendation, UCPD still took part in this year’s Urban Shield.

Last October, the city of Berkeley’s Police Review Commission voted down a proposal to suspend Berkeley’s participation in Urban Shield exercises in 2016 with a 5-to-4 vote.

Frankel said there are no racist or xenophobic undercurrents to the program, adding that terrorism is a real threat today, especially in light of events in San Bernardino, California, and Orlando, Florida.

“I can tell you that I am a better police officer … because I have had the benefit of this training, and I’m grateful for having had those opportunities,” Frankel said.

Contact Charlene Jin and Pressly Pratt at [email protected].