ACTION ALERT: Hillary Clinton and the UASI Fueling Police Militarization
June 14, 2016
The War Resisters League et al & Sarah Lazare / AlterNet
Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton are teaming up with the NYPD to request high levels of funding for a federal "counter-terror" program that is directly bankrolling the militarization of police forces nationwide. To secure the funds, they are invoking the threat of terrorism and exploiting the climate of fear and incitement that has come to define the 2016 election cycle.
ACTION ALERT: UASI Fuels Police Militarization
CIVIL LIBERTIES, HUMANITARIAN AND RELIGIOUS GROUPS CALL FOR MAINTAINING PRESIDENT'S CUT TO URBAN AREA SECURITY INITIATIVE (UASI)
The War Resisters League
NEW YORK, CHICAGO, SAN FRANCISCO (June 13, 2016) -- War Resisters League and The American Friends Service Committee, joined by 32 other civil liberties, religious, and peace and social justice groups called on the House Appropriations Committee to maintain the President's cut to Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) funding as a "step in the right direction."
UASI-supported programs have accelerated police militarization in communities across the country. By requiring training supported by UASI funds to contain a "nexus of terrorism" UASI not only fuels the dangerous culture of aggression so rampant in US police departments, it also subjugates vital emergency response resources to militarized law enforcement
Lara Kiswani, executive director, Arab Resource and Organizing Center said."If you want to fund emergency response, fund emergency response. We do not believe UASI is intended for that at all. Politicians are exploiting the climate of fear of Muslims and racism against Arabs in order to further programs like UASI so that they can use them to further exploit other communities of color. The war on terror has consistently been used to further the already-existing oppressive structures in the United States."
The President has proposed a cut of $270 million to the Department of Homeland Security's program that funds trainings and equipment grants in 29 high-density urban areas across the country.
"Time after time we've seen how programs like UASI feed on cultures of fear to further militarization around the country and the world. But we've also learned how being SWAT raided or teargassed by law enforcement, compels us to build movements across communities -- working together to build a demilitarized world," stated Tara Tabassi of the War Resisters League in New York City.
The groups urge the House Appropriations Committee to support programs for education, housing, job training, mental health and other resources that address the needs of our communities.
Aislinn Pulley of Black Lives Matter -- Chicago noted that "In an environment where Chicago Public Schools may not have enough money to open in the fall, where the mayor closed half of the City's mental health centers, conducted the largest mass public school closing in US history, and where the largest line item in the City's operating budget goes to the police, the UASI budget is a slap in the face of all Chicagoans."
Among the 34 groups signing onto the call to support the cut are: Iraq Veterans Against the War, Center for Constitutional Rights, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, National Lawyers Guild, Xicana Moratorium Project, Berkeley Copwatch, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, BAYAN USA, Arab American Action Network, Black Lives Matter -- Chicago, Black and Pink and Black Youth Project 100.
Sharlyn Grace, Executive Vice-President, National Lawyers Guild said, "Not only do communities of color, and particularly Black communities, bear the brunt of these weapons' daily use through SWAT raids and other means, but military-grade equipment purportedly for use in counter-terrorism efforts is also regularly deployed against protesters, activists, and others exercising their First Amendment rights. Militarized police responses deter and repress vital speech seeking to hold government actors accountable.
How Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer Are
Teaming Up With the NYPD to Push Police Militarization
Sarah Lazare / AlterNet
(June 8, 2016) -- Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton are teaming up with the NYPD to request high levels of funding for a federal "counter-terror" program that is directly bankrolling the militarization of police forces nationwide. To secure the funds, they are invoking the threat of terrorism and exploiting the climate of fear and incitement that has come to define the 2016 election cycle.
At issue is the the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), which was created in 2003 as a Department of Homeland Security grant program aimed at assisting "high-threat, high-density Urban Areas in efforts to build and sustain the capabilities necessary to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism." From 2003 through 2015, at least $8.9 billion from taxpayers have been distributed in the form of UASI grants.
In reality, the program funds initiatives that contribute to blatant law enforcement overreach, including a police militarization and weapons expo known as Urban Shield and the training of SWAT teams across the country. According to the War Resisters League, which contributed research to this report, UASI effectively "strengthens and unifies state repression."
In his proposal for next year's federal budget, President Obama requested cuts to DHS's funding of UASI from $600 million in fiscal year 2016 to $330 million in 2017, arguing that counter-terror funds are sufficiently provided elsewhere. A broad coalition of human rights organizations called this move a "step in the right direction."
The Obama administration's call for reductions provoked a fierce backlash, with the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, joining with NYPD police commissioner Bill Bratton to demand high levels of funding by casting the city as a "top terror target."
Buoyed by support from Clinton, Schumer announced in a press statement in late May that he has successfully restored the UASI funds to the proposed Homeland Security budget. Schumer declared, "UASI is the cornerstone of effective preparedness and prevention against terror attacks and in an era of rising terror threats, our support for anti-terror programs should not be falling."
The tussle over funding comes amid mounting concerns over police impunity. At a time when Black Lives Matter protests have forced public scrutiny of police militarization and killings of African Americans, politicians and police leaders are using the supposedly imminent threat of terror to bulk up their budgets and subvert a national conversation about the proper allocation of public resources.
"Ticking Time Bomb Mentality"
UASI grants do not exclusively fund police; they also finance first responders like firefighters when they can show that a "nexus to terrorism exists." A FEMA spokesperson told AlterNet that the agency is unable to immediately provide a breakdown of what percentage of the recipients are law enforcement agencies.
Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, explained in an interview with AlterNet: "If you want to fund emergency response, fund emergency response. We do not believe UASI is intended for that at all."
Kiswani's suspicion is understandable. A 2011 report from the National UASI Association, which describes itself as a "nonprofit composed of UASI Programs," notes that, "From 2003 to 2010, Urban Areas spent approximately $623 million to support terrorism prevention capabilities. Much of this funding has focused on enhancing intelligence collection, analysis and sharing with fusion centers playing a key role in the process."
Such centers, which operate as ill-defined counter-terrorism spying and intelligence gathering hubs, have conducted warrantless surveillance on Occupy activists and Muslim-American communities.
"Fusion centers have long been an issue that Congress keeps pouring money into without comprehensive oversight or accountability," Michael German, a fellow for the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, told AlterNet. "Because their focus is on intelligence, their threat to civil liberties is enormous and the ability to check abuse is almost nonexistent."
But it gets worse. Craig Dziedzic, general manager for the Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative, noted this year that the funds continue to bankroll Urban Shield, which he described as "an annual full-scale exercise, which is conducted throughout the Bay Area UASI region for 48 hours."
Urban Shield brings together international SWAT teams, weapons manufacturers and police agencies to Alameda County, Calif. for a war games and arms sales extravaganza human rights campaigners say illustrates the epitome of state violence. The event has met such stiff resistance from local residents and activists that in 2014 its weapons expo was kicked out of Oakland.
UASI is also funneling money into SWAT teams across the country, from Macomb, Michigan to Boston, Massachusetts. According to a 2012 report from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), "Keene, New Hampshire, with a population just over 23,000 and a police force of 40, set aside UASI funds to buy a BearCat armored vehicle."
Coburn pointed out that UASI funds bankrolled first responders' $1,000-per-person attendance at a training that included a workshop where actors dressed as zombies were gunned down "to simulate a real-life terrorism event."
FEMA says that, in fiscal year 2016, 29 urban areas were deemed eligible for funds according to "an analysis of relative risk of terrorism." The New York City area is by far the largest recipient of UASI funds, which finance the NYPD's 500-officer Critical Response Command, a permanent counter-terror unit whose cars are "fitted to hold Colt M4 semiautomatic assault rifles," according to New York Times reporter David Goodman.
UASI is helping expand and arm "counter-terror" policing in a city whose top police officer, Bratton, used public fear over terrorism in the wake of the Paris, Brussels and San Bernardino attacks to press for the expansion of police powers, including access to phone data. Some complain that his department has treated Black Lives Matter protesters like a terrorist threat.
According to Josmar Trujillo, a writer and organizer with New Yorkers Against Bratton, "They are using this ticking time bomb mentality, where the mysterious threat of terrorism is always there and at any moment we could all die, so you have to rush to make decisions and bypass civil rights and human rights."
AlterNet reached out to DHS but was unable to locate an official willing to speak on the record. The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"Nexus to Terror"
What is the system-wide impact of financially incentivizing disaster response rooted in counter-terror measures, in a country that has been fighting a nebulous war on terror for nearly 15 years?
In a letter to US senators, 35 grassroots groups, including the American Friends Service Committee, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and Center for Constitutional Rights, argued that "by requiring training supported by these federal funds to contain a 'nexus to terrorism,' UASI serves to fuel the dangerous culture of aggression so rampant in US police departments. UASI also creates a structural bond between militarized law enforcement and vital emergency response resources and workers."
Notably, the congressional fight over UASI funding comes at a time when social movements are demanding accountability for police violence and racism and calling for alternatives to mass incarceration.
Even Clinton claims to be disavowing her track record of supporting "tough on crime" and "war on drugs" policies, yet she is invoking the threat of terror to back high levels of UASI funding. "We need it, we need it, I want it," Clinton said of UASI funding in an April interview with reporters for the New York Daily News. "I don't agree with the Obama administration on that."
Kiswani claimed that "politicians are exploiting the climate of fear of Muslims and racism against Arabs in order to further programs like UASI so that they can use them to further exploit other communities of color. I think the war on terror has consistently been used to further the already-existing oppressive structures in the United States. This is no different than the way that the war on drugs has been used."
Data shows that there is already tremendous overlap between the war on terror and the war on drugs. Of the wiretaps granted by state and federal courts in 2013, nearly 90 percent were used for drug investigations, with UASI is just one piece of a much larger patchwork of federal initiatives that militarize police departments, including the 1033 program, which allows the Department of Defense to transfer weapons of war to state and local law enforcement agencies.
"Time after time we've seen how programs like UASI feed on cultures of fear to further militarization around the country and the world," Tara Tabassi, national organizer for the War Resisters League, told AlterNet. "But we've also learned how being SWAT raided or teargassed by law enforcement, compels us to build movements across communities -- working together to build a demilitarized world."
Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she co-edited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.
ACTION ALERT: Letter to House Committee
On Appropriations: Cut UASI Funding!
To: Representative John Carter, Chairman
Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, Vice Chairman
House Committee on Appropriations (June 7, 2016)
Dear Congressmembers Carter and Frelinghuysen:
We represent civil liberties, humanitarian and religious organizations concerned about federal funding of militarized and sometimes racially prejudicial policing.
Proposed funding for Fiscal Year 2017 includes significant spending cuts -- from $600 million to $330 million -- in the Department of Homeland Security grant program known as the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI). This is a step in the right direction, and the cuts should go much further. UASI money has accelerated police militarization and lack of accountability in our communities.
By requiring training supported by these federal funds to contain a "nexus to terrorism," UASI serves to fuel the dangerous culture of aggression so rampant in US police departments. UASI also creates a structural bond between militarized law enforcement and vital emergency response resources and workers.
In practice, UASI grants are often awarded to cities based solely on enhancing their core anti-terrorism programs, and not for wider emergency preparedness. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's announcement in July 2014, for example, discussed "an additional $18 million [to] be allocated to the City of New York from the State's portion of FY2014 UASI grant, in recognition of the City's unique position in terms of potential threats from terrorist-related activities" (1). (emphasis added)
This militarization is best exemplified by Urban Shield, the UASI-funded training exercises and arms trade show held annually since 2007 in Alameda County, California. Urban Shield is a carnival of militarization that features Islamophobic 'disaster' scenarios, major arms dealers hawking their wares to cops, as well as shocking racialized merchandise. The program's rewards for SWAT teams promote a "shoot first, ask questions later" ethic.
Such an ethic is reflected in racialized SWAT deployments that are disproportionately targeted on Black families. The American Civil Liberties Union found that more than half of all people impacted by SWAT deployments were Black or Latino, and two of every three SWAT raids were drug search warrants (2).
There are also many examples of botched SWAT team raids. It was these effects of militarized SWAT team training that drove vibrant and ongoing cross-community protests and concern that compelled the City of Oakland to cease hosting Urban Shield in 2014, though it continues to be held in a nearby suburb.
These trainings -- which occur in 29 high-density urban areas across the country -- feed directly into the more than 100 SWAT raids that occur daily in the United States -- in mostly Black and Latino communities.
Thirteen-year old Maria Calvillo burst into tears as she told the story of the day in 2014 when Oakland SWAT team officers barged into her family's home, pointed a rifle at her, and searched her family, including her three-month-old sister who was wrapped in a baby blanket.
"The police had a tank in front of our house, an actual tank. I thought I was in a movie . . . It made me angry that they were searching my baby sister," said Calvillo. The Oakland SWAT team has participated in every Urban Shield competition since they began in 2007.
As this testimony makes clear, monies that contribute to this phenomenon, instead of serving to counter "terror," have served as a blank check for fueling fear and violence. Money should be funneled into emergency preparedness for first responders, not through the Department of Homeland Security and militarized policies.
Police departments continue to obtain more armored vehicles, new surveillance equipment, and SWAT training. The federal government should instead support programs for education, housing, job training, mental health, and other resources that address the needs of our communities.
We urge you to support the Administration's proposed cuts to UASI, and move these counter-terrorism funds into demilitarized emergency preparedness programs that meet critical community, medical, fire, and mental health needs.
American Friends Service Committee
War Resisters League
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Iraq Veterans Against the War
Showing Up for Racial Justice
Center for Constitutional Rights
Moana Nui Action and Alliance
Environmentalists Against War
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network
Eastside Arts Alliance
Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice
Arab Resource Organizing Center
National Lawyers Guild
Oakland Privacy Working Group
Xicana Moratorium Project
Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America
Codepink Women for Peace
World Beyond War
Anti Police Terror Project
Civilian Soldier Alliance
Black Lives Matter -- Chicago
Arab American Action Network
Black and Pink
Black Youth Project 100
Evanston Neighbors for Peace
US Palestinian Community Network
Palestinian Youth Movement
(2) American Civil Liberties Union, War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing, June 2014.
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