Originally published in Tikkun Daily |
A month before Occupy Oakland was violently raided by riot police using chemical weapons, rubber bullets and flash grenades - a raid which critically injured Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen - the Oakland Police Department and the Alameda County Sheriff's Department trained alongside a military unit from Bahrain and an Israeli Border Police unit.
The occasion was Urban Shield 2011, an annual training competition which gathers heavily militarized police from the United States and across the globe to explore the latest in tactical responses and to promote collaboration. It's a training that northern California police departments creditedfor their "effective teamwork" in dealing repressively with Occupy Oakland.
Max Blumenthal, who broke this story in al-Akhbar in an exhaustive piece on the militarization of U.S. police, describes the units alongside which multiple California departments trained before violently crushing Occupy Oakland:
Training alongside the American police departments at Urban Shield was the Yamam, an Israeli Border Police unit that claims to specialize in "counter-terror" operations but is better known for its extra-judicial assassinations of Palestinian militant leaders and long record of repression and abuses in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Urban Shield also featured a unit from the military of Bahrain, which had just crushed a largely non-violent democratic uprising by opening fire on protest camps and arresting wounded demonstrators when they attempted to enter hospitals. While the involvement of Bahraini soldiers in the drills was a novel phenomenon, the presence of quasi-military Israeli police - whose participation in Urban Shield was not reported anywhere in US media - reflected a disturbing but all-too-common feature of the post-9/11 American security landscape.
That landscape is being revealed in full relief as militarized SWAT police across America continuously crack down on nonviolent, peaceful Occupy Wall Street protesters. Indeed, excessive, coordinated force - unparallelled in contemporary American history - is being used against both protesters merely assembling to air their grievances and against journalists attempting to merely chronicle such protests.
One needs to look no further than Urban Shield 2011 to see why police departments across the country are beginning to resemble repressive forces in countries such as, say, Bahrain.
Indeed, Urban Shield 2011 was held on the University of California, Berkeley's campus weeks before university police used excessive force on students occupying a campus green. One of the departments that participated in Urban Shield 2011 was the University of California Police Department, Berkeley. Is it any wonder, then, why campus police brutally beat and arrested students in early November in a crackdown on its Occupy Cal encampment?
Occupy Wall Street is not going anywhere. Even as groups are evicted from their encampments, protest actions are creatively expanding - from reclaiming foreclosed-upon homes to flash occupations of commercial districts.
As these nonviolent protests expand, it will be telling how long Americans will tolerate militarized police responses to what is becoming one of this generation's civil rights movements.
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