Posted by on January 11, 2017 5:31 am
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Categories: Oakland/East Bay

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(BANT) – Despite fierce opposition from a wide range of activist groups, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to continue supporting the Sheriff’s Office’s controversial “Urban Shield” first-responder training exercise.

The board’s 5-0 vote came at the end of a five-hour hearing during which several speakers accused Sheriff Gregory Ahern of being a liar and he angrily responded, “Don’t call me a liar!”

Board President Scott Haggerty struggled to maintain order at the packed hearing in the board’s chambers at the county administration building and at one point he threatened to clear the room unless people calmed down.

Board members said they share the concerns that were expressed by most of the approximately 100 speakers about Urban Shield being an event that increases the militarization of law enforcement officers.

But they said they believe that Ahern has put in adequate safeguards to make sure that the annual Urban Shield training program bans racial profiling, excludes vendors who display derogatory or racist messages and excludes the sale or transfer of assault weapons and firearms.

As part of its vote, the board included an amendment by Supervisor Keith Carson to form an 18-member panel of community members, health officials and educational officials that will address the community’s concerns about the Urban Shield.

The event, which is held every September, used to take place in Oakland but was moved to the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton in 2015 after former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said she no longer wanted to have it held in her city. It provides training for natural disasters as well as man-made disasters such as explosions, mass shootings and terrorism.

Supervisor Richard Valle said he believes the training program, which is the nation’s largest first-responder exercise and includes law enforcement agencies from across the country and the world, “is beneficial, if controversial, and I believe we’re moving in the right direction.”

Supervisor Wilma Chan told Urban Shield opponents, “You’ve had more impact on us than you think” and that their concerns prompted Ahern to impose guidelines to ensure that the event won’t include surveillance training or crowd control training.

Supervisor Nate Miley said he thinks some of Urban Shield’s opponents are “naïve” and said the event is necessary because, “We have to live in the world as it is, and it’s a dangerous, dangerous world” that includes terrorism.

At a rally before the hearing, members of the Stop Urban Shield Coalition said they oppose the training event because it is a U.S. Department of Homeland Security-funded program that has received national and international condemnation for its role in training and arming police with military style weapons, tactics, and technologies, and for featuring violent and racist propaganda.

Lara Kiswani of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center said she opposes the program because she believes Ahern “is interested in further militarizing our communities.”

Mohamed Shehk of Critical Resistance said, “Urban Shield isn’t just about policing in the Bay Area, it’s about policing throughout the United States and the world.” Shehk alleged that the program teaches aggressive tactics that are used to oppress people in Mexico, Palestine and other locations around the world.

The board’s vote authorizes the county to accept $5.5 million in Urban Shield Area Security Initiative funds for emergency preparedness for a 15-month period ending in early 2018.

In a separate but related action that was also opposed by many of the same people who oppose Urban Shield, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve spending $650,000 to hire a firm to provide architectural and engineering services for a new mental health facility for inmates at the county’s Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.

Tash Nguyen of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland said she opposes the funding because she thinks jail officials are doing a poor of treating inmates with mental health problems because a high percentage of those inmates wind up back in jail after they’re released.

Nguyen said, “Mental healthcare is far more effective and best delivered outside of a jail setting. While much-needed resources are continuing to be cut for community services, the sheriff is pushing the county toward wasting
funding toward bigger jails.”

Chan said, “Everyone agrees that people with mental health issues get better treatment outside prison” but she said those who are in custody should get the best treatment possible.

Miley said, “The people who are in jail should have the dignity of getting the best services they can get.”

Several speakers called on the board not to spend $61 million on the new mental health facility at the Santa Rita Jail but Carson said the board already approved the facility last June and Chan pointed out that most of that money will come from the state.

Chan said 10 percent of the funding will come from the Sheriff’s Office and none of it will come from the county’s general fund.