“Because we deserve better,” I said to every West Oakland resident I encountered. The 87-year-old lifetime resident and the 30-something hipster alike nodded sagely and said, “that’s right.”
I was canvassing with my clergy colleagues, handing out flyers seeking information on the shooting of 23-month-old Hiram Lawrence, Jr. It was late November, 2011.
My friends and colleagues who prioritize security concerns in Oakland note that the first people who will tell you we need more police on the streets are regular citizens and residents in west and east Oakland. And if you’ve talked to a lot of long-time residents, you’ll find that, with some nuance, that’s pretty true.
My friends and colleagues who prioritize civil rights will note that the people who are most frequently unfairly targeted by the police are also regular citizens and residents of west and east Oakland. They point out that the relationship between community and police is broken almost beyond repair, so that the people who need police protection the most also have the least reason to trust the police. And if you’ve talked to a lot of long-time residents, you’ll find that, with some nuance, that’s pretty true.
Tomorrow, October 25, the Oakland City Marriott will again play host to a program called Urban Shield. A combination of anti-terrorism training and gun show on steroids, County Sherriff Greg Ahern established Urban Shield in 2007 as a means of cashing in on federal funding for anti-terrorism efforts. Bay Area police will be trained by and with security forces from Bahrain, Israel and China, and they will see the latest in munitions and armored cars and drones.
If we are a city that is a war zone, some of my friends argue, we need for our protection crew to be armed for battle. And they are not alone. The War on Terror has moved police departments nationwide towards a strategy of militarization as they seek to make us safe in a scary time, to protect us against terrorists and gang members and suburban anarchists alike.
I am tired of watching babies, little girls, teenagers fall victim to violence in our community. So why would I oppose a program like Urban Shield?