By Steven Tavares.

Few local issues rankle East Bay progressive more than Urban Shield, the annual emergency training event and law enforcement trade show in Pleasanton founded and hosted by Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern.

Community activists and immigrant groups say Urban Shield increases the militarization of local police departments and targets immigrant groups. The depiction of Muslims as terrorists in some Urban Shield training exercises proves this point, say its critics.

In fact, political will in Oakland, where the event was previously held, was so great it forced a move to the Tri-Valley two years ago. Urban Shield costs roughly $1 million and is funded by federal Homeland Security grants.

But in Hayward, which represents the largest concentration of Latinos in the East Bay–roughly 40 percent of the population–the City Council on Tuesday offered strong support for the city’s involvement in the annual event.

“There’s value to it,” said Councilmember Mark Salinas during a meeting that included a discussion on the city’s new anti-discrimination plan created this year by a council-appointed 22-person community task force. The document known as “The Commitment,” among other recommendations, calls for the Hayward Police Department to withdraw from Urban Shield.

The suggestion was strongly rebutted by the council and City Manager Kelly McAdoo who said the emergency training provided by Urban Shield have proven valuable for the city’s police officers and firefighters.

Reports that the trade show portion of Urban Shield routinely included sale items featuring discriminatory messages toward immigrants and racial groups, however, is a concern to the city staff, said McAdoo. Only by the city remaining in Urban Shield can they have a voice in changing its culture and policies, McAdoo and other councilmembers said Tuesday.

“I want to the city to continue [in Urban Shield,]” said Hayward Mayor Barbara Halliday. “We need to stay because we need to work with the region and voice our concerns.” Additionally, Salinas urged the city to take an active role in “de-racializing” Urban Shield. “I trust our police chief and our fire chief will be strong advocates of that.” Both, Halliday and Salinas are candidates for mayor next year.

“We need to stay in and make it better,” Councilmember Al Mendalladded. “Walking away isn’t going to be good for us and it won’t be good for Urban Shield.”

Councilmember Francisco Zermeno, however, had a slightly different take. Following reports that Urban Shield often dressed suspects in Middle Eastern garb during some exercises, Zermeno noted reflexively, “We do have white terrorists.”

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Originally posted at East Bay Citizen.