I Went Behind The Scenes At “Urban Shield.” It Was More Racist Than I Could Have Imagined.


Berkeley Police Department’s Special Response Unit re-enacts the Garland, TX shooting at Urban Shield 2016. Credit: Mary Noble.

In 2016 I bluffed my way into Urban Shield, the massive police weapons fair in Pleasanton, California, that is also one of the world’s largest police training exercises. What happens here shapes policing all over the US. What I saw shocked me. The training exercises were far more racist than I could ever have imagined.

Urban Shield is really two different events: A weapons trade show in Pleasanton, and a 48-hour SWAT training exercise at locations all over the Bay. When I arrived at the weapons expo in Pleasanton, security was tight. Only one gate was open to cars. Police checked credentials through car windows. I hadn’t pre-arranged a press pass. But I showed my press pass to a cop and asked whether they’d accept me, a blogger for the Huffington Post. To my surprise, the answer was yes.

The exhibition hall was surrounded by hundreds of cops clustered in small groups, each group wearing different matching camo and tactical gear. I learned later that these teams would compete in Urban Shield’s 48-hour training exercise, which involved role-playing 36 mass casualty attacks on zero hours of sleep.

Then I went into the exhibition hall, which was full of tables loaded with weapons: AR-15s, body armor, rifle scopes.

One of the first things I saw was a medical mannequin of a bomb victim with its leg ripped off, blood spurting, for police to practice tourniquets on (pictured). I was told that the dummy, body armor, and guns would be used in the 48-hour training, so that police could try them before buying for their departments.

 

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I Was There in Berkeley Too — What the Media Got Wrong

Many at the August 27 mobilization have been surprised by the media’s portrayal of events. Articles like  What the Media Got Wrong About Last Weekend’s Protests in Berkeley gives a more nuanced perspective. As one of the organizers, this is mine.

I Was There in Berkeley Too — What the Media Got Wrong

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Victory Against White Supremacy in the Bay!

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Victory Against White Supremacy in the Bay!
Statement from the organizers - a coalition of Black and immigrant interfaith, anti-racist, anti-fascist, LBGTQ and civil rights groups.

Today in Berkeley we won a victory against white supremacy. We turned out united communities and congregations to directly confront hate speech and hate action, and to keep our streets free of fascists. This is part of a growing national trend of people saying no to hate. We were clear, visible and uncompromising in our demand that they not bring this hate to our neighborhoods, places of worship, public parks, universities and streets. Their Berkeley rally, like their SF rally, was canceled. Fascists were not able to come into a public space and engage in the kind of violence they have too many times before. People worked across lines to keep each other safe. The police, armed with special ordinances from SF and Berkeley City Hall, attempted to stop us from expressing our commitment to defend ourselves and each other against racist, Islamophobic, anti-semitic, sexist, homophobic and transphobic violence. They even arrested anti-racist and anti-fascist protesters on charges as illegitimate as wearing a mask to protect themselves from being targeted by violent supremacists and fascists. Despite this, people stayed united, firm and took care of each other.

Please contribute to the bail fund of the Anti-Repression Committee of the National Lawyers Guild.

 

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#NoHateNoWall Campaign Claims Its First Victory

IMG_0630.JPGHere in the Bay Area, a region we like to think is imbued with liberal and progressive values, there are reportedly some two dozen companies that are bidding on Trump’s border wall. This morning at 7:00 am, local activists kicked off a campaign to call out those companies who hope to tap into the billions of dollars earmarked for the Department of Homeland Security’s construction of the wall.

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#SayHerName: Charleena Lyles. Nabra Hassanen. Josie Berrios.

Left to right: Charleena Lyles, Nabra Hassanen & Josie Berrios. 

We as SURJ Bay Area are deeply saddened, horrified, and outraged by the recent murders of three women of color across the U.S. We honor and uplift their names: 

Charleena Lyles.

Nabra Hassanen.

Josie Berrios.

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Inspiration for Courage and Change - Part II

by Micki Luckey

Book cover for A Wall Between by Anne BradenIn The Wall Between we are extremely fortunate to have Anne Braden’s own account of how she left behind a traditional upbringing in Alabama and Mississippi to actively work against segregation in Louisville, Kentucky. She details her insight into the steps of her changes in consciousness, followed by an act with consequences she hadn’t foreseen. As Julian Bond wrote in his foreword to a second printing of the book (1999), “Anne and [her husband] Carl Braden belong to a small band of modern abolitionists willing to brave danger in pursuit of the unfinished American racial revolution.” (p.xiii) What brought Anne to that point?

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Inspiration for Courage and Change - Part I

By Micki Luckey

heffners.jpgIn current times of continued police violence against Blacks and renewed attacks on immigrants and Muslims as well as LGBTQ and Jewish people, what is the role of white people who are concerned about racial justice? Today I take inspiration for courage and change from two books about how individual white people confronted segregation and racism in the Deep South: So the Heffners Left McComb by Hodding Carter, 1965, reprinted 1999, and The Wall Between by Anne Braden, 1958, reprinted 1999. Part I will discuss the first and Part II will discuss the second.

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SURJ Bay Area Human Billboards

The Early History of SURJ Bay Area Human Billboards

Inspired by a neighborhood group in the Dimond District of Oakland, SURJ Bay Area began organizing Human Billboard events in November of 2016. Despite the pouring rain, the first gathering in November 2016 — adjacent to the Lakeshore Farmer’s Market —  attracted dozens of participants. 

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Shame on the City of Oakland: An Open Letter from SURJ Bay Area

We are filled with sorrow, anger and frustration over the deadly West Oakland San Pablo Fire that killed, displaced, and injured, approximately 100 of our neighbors on March 27. We remember Edwarn Anderson, Cassandra Robertson-Johnson, Ashantikee Wilson, and one unidentified soul who lost their lives in the fire.

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An Open Letter to SFPD Sgt. Nate Steger from a former classmate, on the one year anniversary of the killing of Luis Góngora Pat

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Dear Nate, 

It’s been thirty years since we graduated high school, back in 1987, when time seemed to open before us with un-imagined possibility. We haven’t been in touch, but it’s time to reach out to you. I regret that it’s not under better circumstances. I would have rather reached out to congratulate you on the birth of a kid, or some professional achievement.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. On April 7, 2016, a year ago today, Luis Góngora Pat lay dead in a pool of blood on Shotwell Street, between 18th and 19th Street in the Mission District of San Francisco. His name was added to the list of young men and women of color killed by Bay Area police, including Mario Woods, Alex Nieto, Amilcar Perez-Lopez, Kenneth Harding, Oscar Grant, Yuvette Henderson and so many more. His story was added to the stories of so many working class men and women of color who wind up dead at the hands of the police, all across the U.S.

Shortly after Pat’s body was returned to his home village in the Yucatan Peninsula of his native Mexico, your name emerged as one of the two officers who fired the fatal shots. I’ve been thinking a lot about Góngora’s death and your involvement in it. That a former high school classmate transplanted to the Bay Area, just like me, killed this man whose family I’ve come to know… hits too close to home. So, with a year gone by since his killing, this seems a good time to reach out to you.

Since I pay attention to police violence in my community and across the country, I’m used to the rage that wells up inside and to the anger and grief that rocks our communities each time a young person of color is killed by the police. But when I learned that that this gun – the one that killed Luis - was fired by a former classmate, someone I knew, someone I’d looked up to, that knocked me for a loop.

Unlike every other needless death, where the officers’ names are simply ink on paper, reading your name staring up at me in the same sentence as Luis’s roused something beyond the familiar outrage. More than anything, it raised a lot of questions.

Like us, Luis was a transplant to the Bay Area, though his journey was different than ours. After Luis’s killing, I met his brother, his cousins, and one of his workmates. They gave me a snapshot of his history and it was clear that his struggles—for housing, for work, for a community—, mirrored the struggles faced by so many poor people of color already from here and immigrants who move to the Bay to find a better life.

Luis was from Mexico, where thousands of small sustenance farmers and indigenous peoples have been displaced from their ancestral farm lands due to economic policies designed in Washington, DC and implemented through the corporate boardrooms of Monsanto and Cargill. When NAFTA was enacted in 1994, the US forced the Mexican government to eradicate financial support for small farmers and to privatize collectively held Indigenous lands. Large US-based agribusiness flooded the Mexican market with cheap corn, pricing small farmers out of their most profitable crop. It's true: we came to San Francisco with dreams for a better life, but neither you nor I had been cut off from our livelihoods and forced to hit the road, like Luis.

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In high school you were a year ahead of me, and I looked up to you. Maybe you remember the day you invited me over and we sat in your room strewn about with records: The Ramones. Minor Threat. You had all the best bands. You asked if I had ever heard the Misfits and when I shook my head no, your face lit up, “Oh, man, you gotta hear this,” as you dropped the needle on the record.

The music churned and we schemed about who could give us a ride to the next punk rock show. When we talked it was like talking to an older brother: your self-confidence gave me some kind of protective comfort. Maybe that was just the unearned power of a high school senior or maybe it was your charismatic personality. Of course, I wonder now what role all that bravado played in your decision to join law enforcement. Ultimately I wonder how much of that overplayed high school self-confidence influenced you to pull the trigger on April 7, last year.

Our high school in suburban DC was run by Quakers – anti-authoritarian pacifists who had us sit in silent meeting for worship twice a week. They taught us the nuts and bolts about how slavery was abolished, about civil disobedience, and the rights of immigrants. We had Black South African classmates who were made refugees by the Apartheid regime.

The school itself stood near a spring that was a landmark on the underground railroad. In a nation where very few of us are taught racial injustice, we learned about race, and racism, and the violence in it. So everyone was surprised when, after graduation, we heard the rumor that you’d become a cop. Initially, I was impressed: you’d made a decisive career move while most of us were either working minimum-wage jobs or road-tripping around the country. There was something admirable in that.

But, really? A cop? And not any cop, but a DC cop? All through our high school years, the 80’s crack epidemic was blooming in DC, especially devastating the Black community. Reagan’s and Bush’s wars in Central America and the Middle East disgusted us. Those times forged in me a healthy suspicion of authority. But not in you, I suppose.

As we drained pitchers in Dupont Circle dive bars we wondered, “How could Nate, a white suburban punk kid like us, want to join the shock troops of this violent system, in one of the Blackest cities in the US? It didn’t make sense.

Then, who was I to judge? I was wrenching bicycles forty hours a week at $6.50 per hour. Most of our peers were too strung out, dropped out, or zoned out on video games to compare our lives to anyone else’s. The gossip sessions usually ended by accepting your decision at face-value. “If Nate’s doing something for himself, good for him.”

A couple years later, a few of us had migrated out to the Bay, and then we heard you’d moved out to SF too. I never ran into you, but someone said: “Guess what? I saw Nate the other day. He’s a cop. Undercover.”

We had taken different paths, and whenever your name came up, I’d wonder what life was like for you as a cop. How much of yourself did you have to suppress to wear that uniform? How much did you have to contort the old Nate to fit in behind the famed Blue Wall of Silence? Did your fellow officers know you’d gone to a Quaker high school? How you were taught to reject the authority of the preacher, to question leaders, to challenge the racism in our society? Were you embarrassed to tell them how you were taught how to meditate; and how you learned to listen to the thoughts that remained after everything else washed away to guide important decisions?

I’m asking because I’m trying to reconcile the Nate that I knew in high school and the Officer Steger who I saw on YouTube rush from his car on the morning of April 7, 2016. When did Nate morph into that Officer who, less than 28 seconds after arriving on the scene, planted the fatal shots into a man seated on the ground?
——————-

Yearbook page

When I look back at our yearbook from 1986, your smiling face is peppered across the pages. Your charisma beams through. The youthful spark in your eye radiates. I turn to the page you designed. (Remember how we seniors fretted over cutting and pasting those pages?) In the center, you put a big photo of Bob Marley. You added all the obligatory words of appreciation for the pals who helped you through. But one thing catches my eye that I didn’t notice before. A short message is tucked in the lower right corner in your handwriting: “Speak English” What did that mean to you in 1986? And what does it mean now?

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