Stop Urban Shield Coalition Victory: WRL Statement

Congratulations to the Stop Urban Shield Coalition on the recent victory of demilitarizing emergency preparedness in California’s Bay Area! 

In other words: ending Urban Shield. Since 2013, this cross-community coalition has organized tirelessly against Urban Shield — a SWAT team training and weapons expo, that brought together local, regional, and international police to collaborate on, and practice, new forms of military-grade weaponry and tactics of state repression. Urban Shield was often described as “the largest SWAT training in the world.”

As proud members of the Stop Urban Shield Coalition, War Resisters League sends our love and respect to Bay Area organizations that strategized, organized and built the community power leading to this huge win.

Because this win is huge indeed! This hard-won victory really shows us how to build momentum towards making the country and world, a No SWAT Zone!

Wait, What Happened?

After years of patient organizing and building of a new consensus around militarization and counter terrorism by the Stop Urban Shield coalition, the “Alameda County Board of Supervisors approved changes that called for the exercise to focus more on disaster preparedness and less on fighting crime and terrorism.”

As a result of these recommendations, Sheriff Ahern — whose office ran Urban Shield since its inception in 2007 — took Alameda County out of the running for these earmarked federal program funds. Because — apparently — when emergency preparedness came closer to being about community leadership and the natural disasters that are about a million times more likely to occur than terrorism, they were no longer interested. Militarized minds y’all.

What this means though, is that there are likely several openings to similarly recommend and implement the demilitarization of disaster response around the country and world. Once guidelines are set against the actual war-like practices of police and SWAT teams, we can push local government bodies like the Bay-Area’s Board of Supervisors to choose the right side.

Why is stopping SWAT trainings and antiwar issue?

In 2011, in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings and the waves of government repression that followed, War Resisters League launched its Facing Tear Gas campaign, targeting U.S.-based tear gas companies. Through that campaign, we learned about the deeper roots of police militarization globally, and the immense amount of U.S. funding for militarized police training and weapons. Our campaign, No SWAT Zone, started with the part we played in launching the Facing Urban Shield Campaign in 2013-14. We then supported local organizing against police militarization trainings and expos in Boston, Chicago, and New York.

War Resisters League is particularly proud to have played a role in stopping Urban Shield by co-founding the coalition in 2011 with very particular principles in mind: centering the leadership and ongoing organizing of frontline communities; understanding militarism as a state of mind - a political economy and a way of relating to one another that's about much more than just big guns — and foregrounding the fundamentally global nature of militarism today. Because as we struggle against racism and poverty within the US, we have a vital responsibility to use our big U.S. megaphone to highlight much more hidden struggles around the world —including state repression in Bahrain to Brazil, and ongoing wars in Afghanistan to Somalia and beyond.

We are deeply encouraged by the victory of the Bay Area-led SUS coalition and what they have achieved, as well work happening in New York led by the Decolonize This Place campaign to get tear gas company Safariland CEO Warren Kanders off the Board of the Whitney Museum. We hope that intersectional, international antimilitarist organizing continues to flourish, so that we may end the intertwined systems of policing and militarism for good!

In Solidarity,

Ali Issa 
Former WRL Field Organizer

Kimber Heinz
Former WRL National Organizing Coordinator

Tara Tabassi
Former WRL National Organizer