We’ve all watched commando movies — WWII thrillers with elite forces deep behind enemy lines; John Wayne in “the Green Berets;” more recently, the genre of Special Forces in helos on their way to destroy the terrorists. Which is fine — on the big screen.
But, first with Reagan’s Drug War and then after 9/11, we have been bombarded with the meme that such training and tactics belong in our cities and along our byways. Most of us no longer think twice when we see snipers perched atop military vehicles, commando “no-knock” raids on suburban houses, or police dressed in armor marching along a boulevard in response to a protest.
Born of anti-terrorism and fed on fears of the other, Urban Shield — the militarized training of SWAT teams which Berkeley has participated in for a decade — is one particularly odious manifestation of this ethos. As such, it needs to end, not with a bang, but with a vote.
We have been told that Urban Shield’s training is “excellent,” “unavailable elsewhere,” “invaluable.” The truth is that this is not the kind of training a progressive community — or any town — should accept for its police force.
Ignore for a minute the racist undertone of the extravaganza, epitomized by T-Shirts sold there embossed with the logo “Black Rifles Matter” or the image of a hooded storm trooper dressed all in white. Let pass the obvious adrenalin rush of those equipped with military-grade weaponry as they participate in special-forces type maneuvers, and the glorification of such in Urban Shield propaganda.
Think instead of the training itself — training which reinforces use of excessive force, promotes intolerance for dissent and civil disobedience, and furthers the stereotyping and racial and ethnic profiling we have been struggling to remove from law enforcement for decades. Training that produces results like this:
“Dressed like soldiers, they broke down the door. The SWAT officers tossed a flashbang grenade into the room. It landed in Baby Bou Bou’s crib, blowing a hole in his face and chest that took months to heal and covering his entire body with scars.” (Source: Salon.) And this…
While executing a “no-knock” search warrant, a SWAT team… raided the wrong house… At 5:30 a.m.. Marianne Diaz and her two daughters were sleeping in the bedroom… Suddenly, 10 to 15 SWAT team officers burst through the doors with shields up and guns drawn shouting expletives at the family… Police searched her room for 10 minutes before allowing Diaz to cover her naked body… “She questioned (the others) why she had to search me if I was naked,” Diaz recalled. “They were like, ‘Search her anyway.’” (Source: Nation of Change.) Whatever it is, this cannot be good training. It cannot even be adequate training. Neither excellent, nor invaluable, it is dangerous in spirit to those who partake of it and dangerous in body to those it is “applied” to on our streets.
The safety of the community cannot be addressed with Urban Shield’s toxic intermingling of public disaster training and the confluence of anti-terrorism and the philosophy of eternal war (“War is Peace”) — as promulgated by the Department of Homeland Security, the sponsor of Urban Shield. In this Trumpian era it defies common sense.
We can’t “ignore the parts of Urban Shield we don’t like.” We must not accept the siren call to fiddle at the margins to make the event slightly less offensive. We have to understand the basic premise of Urban Shield is hopelessly tainted and inimical to our actual goals for our city and our law enforcement – safety for all in the context of racial justice, de-escalation and the humane treatment of the mentally ill.
The sooner Berkeley rejects Urban Shield’s message, clearly and unambiguously, by ending its participation, the sooner better training modalities which reflect our values will come into being. It won’t happen as long as we keep pretending that Urban Shield is acceptable when it is not.
The Berkeley City Council needs to say just that on May 16 — take us out of Urban Shield!