by Rev. Diane Weible
A couple of weeks ago I attended the Stop Urban Shield rally in Oakland. Urban Shield is a militarized training program that brings together law enforcement agencies from all over the world to train through war game simulations and scenarios. The claim and intention of the event is described as emergency preparedness. Members of the Stop Urban Shield coalition (http://stopurbanshield.org/) say that description rings hollow when the event focuses on increasing weapons and militarization of law enforcement, racist narratives, and simulations, inviting corporate vendors but not community and social justice organizations, and encouraging increased surveillance of us all.
Community pressure on Alameda County around hosting the event led to the creation of a Task Force to address the militarized nature of Urban Shield and its impact specifically on communities of color in the Bay Area. Some of the Task Force members over the years have concluded that reform of the program is not possible and the only solution is to end it completely. You can view the report card of this year on concerns and community centered needs: http://stopurbanshield.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Urban-Shield-Report-Card-1.pdf
What impressed me the most about the Stop Urban Shield rally earlier this month was that after stating the case that Urban Shield must end, we all marched to Lake Merritt where organizers held a resource fair. The fair was to show that this is what it looks like when communities come together for emergency preparedness. Professionals were on hand to teach us how to put out a fire, make an earthquake kit, defend ourselves if attacked, and many other skills that we would need in the event of an emergency or an incident where our community safety is being threatened.
The idea came in part from the Sheriff who, in response to community pressure, held a fair in the parking lot of a church in Castro Valley where Alameda County departments sold earthquake kits for $65. Stop Urban Shield wanted to demonstrate on a bigger scale the kind of event that would have a positive impact on the community by providing resources, connecting neighbors and resources, and creating solutions that were empowering, affordable, and easy for anyone to learn.
It was peaceful. It offered alternatives to militarized force. It called for the community to work together.
So…why am I bringing this up today?
On Monday the East Bay Express newspaper published an article that quoted one of the Task Force members, Mike Grant, a federally licensed firearms dealer, as saying that Stop Urban Shield members are terrorists.
I guess that makes me a terrorist. And, several other United Church of Christ leaders whom I stood beside at this and other rallies. And, many other faith and community leaders who attended as well.
Do you know what led to Grant calling Stop Urban Shield organizers terrorists? They recently planned a peaceful protest in which they carried small signs, stood at the back of the room at a meeting, and even asked permission if they could sing a song. For that alone they were called terrorists and were described as linked to, “bad people overseas.”
What really disturbs me about this article and Grant’s words is this rhetoric has only one purpose—to defame people who disagree with him. Don’t get me wrong. It’s ok to disagree. We aren’t meant to all agree on everything. I have a problem with Urban Shield but I don’t have a problem with someone who supports Urban Shield and wants to try to explain to me why he or she thinks it’s a beneficial program. I’m going to do my best to tell that person why I think it needs to end, and encourage the visions of community organizers like the ones who created the alternative community fair instead.
I’ve stood with many people singing in protest for marriage equality, in support of Stop Urban Shield, and against white supremacy. I will stand and sing and carry signs for many more things in my lifetime. I feel this expresses my patriotism as an American because if I didn’t care what this country was doing – I wouldn’t speak out so passionately when I witness injustice and harm being done in the name our country. But how does that make me a terrorist?
When Rev. Dr. King Jr. at the height of the civil rights protests and movements was arrested, and labeled an extremist, a word trying to invoke the same slander in the way terrorist is being used now, he said:
But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love…Was not Amos an extremist for justice…Was not Martin Luther an extremist…So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?
Some examples of harm community leaders are speaking out against is the Urban Shield vendor who uses the slogan, “Black Rifles Matter”. Or the use of images of the “enemy” for target practice as people of color, Muslims, and those perceived to be Muslim. No matter what color your skin is or what faith tradition you follow I hope we understand this kind of racism, and profiling is offensive and dangerous. Communities of color have long been terrorized by the increase in police shootings of unarmed persons, the expansion of the prison and immigrant detention system, widespread systemic inequality, and the failures of our justice system to provide any accountability.
Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?
What makes people so afraid of listening to those who experience something different than them? Why have we become so polarized that we cannot even have a civilized public conversation about a program that has real consequences on the lives and well being of so many? Stop Urban Shield has also offered solutions for community based emergency response. Why does the sharing of these ideas and considerations make a person a terrorist in the eyes of another?
My sincere prayer is that people who carry so much fear, anger, and hate in their heart that they immediately label anyone who disagrees with them as evil will be changed by God, and by us, to know the grace and love that God has so freely given to us and empowers us to so freely give to others.
I even pray that they will come out next year, truly meet their neighbor, and learn how to build a safe and just world for all.
May we lead the way of how to do just that, altogether.