This morning twenty-three protestors were arrested at Urban Shield, the massive police SWAT training and weapons trade show held every year in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Around 200 protestors were at the rally at the Alameda Fairgrounds in Pleasanton. That means police managed to arrest around ten percent of the protestors. It seems ironic—or perhaps appropriate—to see a mass arrest at a police event that promotes heavy-handed policing. (The protestors were all released later in the day.)
Stop Urban Shield protestors managed to completely shut down one entrance to Urban Shield by chaining themselves to a gate at around 8 am, when the event opened. Police must have been worried that protestors would stage a similar coup at other entrances, because they shut down every gate but one, and the remaining gate could only be reached via a circuitous route through an unpaved parking lot.
The protest was covered by most of the major local news outlets, a level of media coverage that made it a success, according to Mohamed Shehk, national spokesman for Critical Resistance, part of the Stop Urban Shield coalition.
The Stop Urban Shield protest and the Urban Shield trade show looked and felt like two utterly different visions of the world. At the protest, people sang and carried signs with slogans painted on cardboard hearts, suns, and apples. In the Urban Shield expo hall, which smelled of chemicals and metal, most of the vender stalls featured weapons, body armor, or surveillance gadgets.
I’d never been to Urban Shield before, and was initially taken aback to find myself in a room full of tables covered in guns and other weapons.
The pepper spray and rubber bullet rifles pictured above will be used in some of the mass casualty simulations staged by Urban Shield across the Bay Area this weekend. One main purpose of the vender show is to get the latest military-style gadgets into law enforcement hands for the training exercise, in the hope that this will lead police departments to buy their wares.
The simulation will involve at least 60 teams of first responders, including 36 SWAT teams like the one pictured right. They’ll spend 48 hours competing to respond fastest to horrific mock disasters in thirty different locations. Contestants stay awake virtually the entire time, with only an hour or so allowed for sleep. The teams will stumble onto role-played mass shootings, hostage situations, and terror attacks in locations like Oakland Airport or Amtrak station. SWAT teams usually take the lead and “make the area safe,” I was told by Lieutenant Justin McComas of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. This approach—having SWAT teams take the lead in emergencies--has been strongly criticized by the Stop Urban Shield Coalition. They point out that police-led disaster responses can result in worse health outcomes for casualties, especially for non-white victims.
A police officer from Sacramento, Joshua Kirslan, told me he’d competed in five previous Urban Shields. He said that the mass casualty incidents were “as close as you can make it to the real world,” and taught him skills that he’d deployed on the job. However, he laughed and declined to answer when I asked him to reveal an incident in which he’d deployed his mass casualty preparedness skills.
The hyperreal medical dummies below will represent injured civilians in some of the disaster scenarios. The dummies bleed out and twitch until SWAT teams apply tourniquets.
I spoke to Mike Engler, a former Fire Department EMT, who took part in previous years’ Urban Shield competitions, and I asked him what he gained from it. “It’s good in the emergency field to watch realistic hostage situations with 15-20 people injured,” he told me. “It overwhelms you mentally,” he added, “so it was nice to see a tactical situation with 20, 30, 40 people down. If there’s a terror attack, this is stuff you have to do to be effective.”
Like most people I spoke to at Urban Shield, Engler dwelt on the value of ultra-realistic preparation for mass casualty terror attacks, and he seemed to take for granted that police tactical teams would lead a heavily armed response. That’s precisely the trend that the Stop Urban Shield Coalition finds so worrying.
Comments are closed on this story.