‘Militarization is not the answer’: Crowds gather in Oakland to celebrate end of Urban Shield

Mani Sandhu/Staff

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About 150 people assembled at the steps of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office in Downtown Oakland late Friday afternoon to celebrate the end of the controversial police training program Urban Shield.

The Stop Urban Shield Coalition organized the rally to coincide with the final scenario exercises and vendor exhibitions of Urban Shield that took place this weekend, according to Jennifer Abella, a Gabriela Oakland member and Stop Urban Shield Coalition organizer. The rally also coincided with the People’s Climate March in San Francisco on Saturday.

“We’re also here to connect climate justice and these climate disasters that are happening in our backyards and all over the world, to make sure that other communities recognize that militarization is not the answer to these disasters,” Abella said.

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to end Urban Shield this year after years of intense public criticism and complaints that the program promotes hypermilitarization and exacerbates racial disparities.

The Berkeley Police Department and Berkeley Fire Department are participating in the final Urban Shield program this year. Members from both departments have said in the past that Urban Shield is necessary.

BPD spokesperson Officer Byron White previously told The Daily Californian that “participation (in) Urban Shield makes us a better police department,” adding that “its training is unique and is not something we would be able to duplicate on our own.”

Berkeley City Councilmember Cheryl Davila — who has been vocal about her disapproval of Urban Shield — also came out to celebrate the end of Urban Shield on Friday.

Photos of various climate disasters across the world covered barricades that blocked off part of Lakeside Drive for the duration of the rally.

Community members carried signs reading, “Stop urban shield,” “End police war on our communities” and “Funding for health and well-being, defund urban shield.”

These sentiments were echoed by the various speakers who walked up the steps to mobilize and inform the crowd that the fight against police training programs such as Urban Shield is far from over. Abella said the objective now is to ensure that the Board of Supervisors does not “reincarnate” Urban Shield under a new name.

Cat Brooks, the emcee for the night, kept the energy of the crowd high with chants such as “It’s a beautiful day for what? For resistance! For what? For resistance!” BoomShake, a multicultural music and movement community program, provided a brief musical intermission.

Speakers such as Joy Braun, who was a protester at the Dakota Access pipeline protests, shared personal stories about their experiences with environmental racism and the police, keeping in line with the rally’s theme of militarization and climate change.

“There will be no Urban Shield as it’s currently configured, but who will be seated at the table to shape what next year looks like?” Brooks said to the crowd. “It’s got to be the community. It’s time for the community to define, to shape and to orchestrate what keeps us safe.”

Contact Mani Sandhu at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ManiSandhu24.