Some see counter-terrorism funding as essential to protecting New York. But critics believe it fosters the militarization of our police.

Aaron McElroy

Some see counter-terrorism funding as essential to protecting New York. But critics believe it fosters the militarization of our police.

“We need it, we need it! I want it!”
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, referring to federal homeland security funding for New York during a Saturday sit-down with reporters and editors from The Daily News

Dear Senator Clinton,

You claim to want to demilitarize police and reform policing, but with your enthusiastic call for more counter-terrorism funding this weekend, you are in fact accomplishing the opposite. This past Saturday, you slammed President Obama’s proposed cut to federal homeland security funding for police departments nationwide. For next year’s federal budget, the Obama administration has proposed deep spending cuts – decreasing from $600 million to $330 million – for the Department of Homeland Security grant program known as the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI). While this is a step in the right direction, the cuts should actually go much further. UASI money has accelerated police militarization, lack of accountability, and a loss of security in our communities.

War Resisters League has long argued that UASI (with its funding requirements that trainings contain a “nexus to terrorism”) fuel the dangerous culture of aggression so rampant in U.S. police departments. UASI creates a structural bond between militarized law enforcement and vital emergency response resources and workers, solidifying militarized solutions for future crises and disasters. On the national level, 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 celebrates a “shoot first, ask questions later” ethic that we see the results of everyday. Such an ethic is reflected in SWAT deployments that disproportionately target Black families and people having mental health crises, often resulting in botched raids. It was the effects of militarized SWAT team training that drove a vibrant and ongoing cross-community pressure campaign that compelled the City of Oakland to cease hosting Urban Shield in 2015.

The examples could go on. UASI funds created the NYPD’s new 500-officer Critical Response Command, a full-time counter-terror unit with no public oversight and accountability. The strongest advocate for UASI funds, New York State Senator Chuck Schumer, was recently quoted as saying those funds “pay for coordinated regional planning exercises [ . . . ] designed to prepare and coordinate multi-jurisdictional emergency response related to a large and catastrophic event. UASI funds have been used on Ground Law Enforcement Security Measures, which includes heavy-weapons teams that conduct ongoing patrols at transit hubs, airports, bridges, subways, waterways and highly visited landmarks.”

Senator Schumer fails to mention that these trainings – which occur in 28 ‘high density urban areas’ across the U.S. – feed directly into the 100+ SWAT raids per day nationwide – more than half in Black and Latino communities.

“Thirteen-year old Maria Calvillo bursts into tears as she tells the story of the day in November 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 who shared her story at the Stop Urban Shield Coalition protest in downtown Oakland, California [in 2015].”

As this testimony makes clear, monies that contribute to this phenomenon, rather than serving to counter “terror,” are in practice a blank check for fueling fear and police violence. Funds should instead be funneled directly into emergency preparedness for first responders, not through the Department of Homeland Security and militarized policies.

Senator Clinton, as a presidential candidate campaigning for New York’s vote, rather than standing with NYPD Commissioner Bratton and police militarization funding, you should be listening to New Yorkers calling for housing, education, job training and mental health support: real demilitarized solutions that build a future for us all.

-Tara Tabassi is a national organizer for the War Resisters League, NYC