Why is "libertarian" Uber sponsoring San Francisco's giant police militarization conference?
Well, this is a little weird.
Since Ferguson, the debate has become significantly louder around the over-militarization of America's police officers. Leading that charge has been the libertarian movement, in particular Radley Balko whose book "The Rise of the Warrior Cop" was a call to -- uh -- arms for those who are convinced that the Fish and Wildlife Service is soon going to start operating like Seal Team Six.
That last line wasn't facetious, by the way. Balko literally claimed in the Wall Street Journal that the Department of Education and the Fish and Wildlife Service operate their own SWAT teams. Unfortunately for the libertarians who have embraced Balko as their spokesperson, the claims weren't true. In fact, the entire piece lead to what might be the longest correction the Journal has ever had to add to the end of a book promoting column:
The Consumer Products Safety Commission does not have a SWAT team. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that it does. Also, the U.S. Department of Education and the Fish and Wildlife Service have law-enforcement divisions, but the agencies say they don't receive tactical or military training and don't operate as SWAT teams. An earlier version of this essay incorrectly said that the agencies have SWAT teams. In addition, the earlier version incorrectly described the execution of two search warrants. In the first case, the FWS says that its officers' weapons weren't drawn when it searched a Gibson Guitar factory in 2009. The essay incorrectly called it an "assault-style raid." In the second case, the Department of Education says its search of the residence of alleged members of a student-loan fraud ring was successfully executed. The essay incorrectly described the search as "bungled" and incorrectly implied that the home was searched because a resident had failed to repay her student loan. Finally, Mr. Balko says that he sought comment from the U.S. government agencies mentioned in the essay while researching a book in 2012. The essay incorrectly implied that the agencies had failed to respond to recent requests for comment.So, yes, perhaps the libertarians need a better "thought" "leader" on the issue. And today it seems they also need someone capable of keeping their team on message....
Uber's Travis Kalanick is probably tied with [Pando investor] Peter Thiel for the title of Silicon Valley's most high profile libertarian. Kalanick's entire schtick has been that Uber is Robin Hood to the government's Sheriff of Nottingham.
Last month I wrote about what seemed to be a weird, heavily armed overreaction to an unlawful Uber pickup in San Francisco. Armed cops and SFMTA agents surrounded a driver, with hands hovering over their weapons, apparently because he picked up a street hail.
Surely Uber's uber-libertarian CEO would have something to say about that? And yet, the company remained weirdly silent, even after Pando asked them for comment. Why on earth would Kalanick not want to make hay from another example of government oppression?
Today we got a possible answer, via this tweet from Mother Jones' Shane Bauer. Uber is "platinum sponsor" of Urban Shield 2014, a two day convention and training exercise, happening right now in San Francisco, dedicated to encouraging and supporting... the militarization of law enforcement. The event's slogan: "critical training for critical times."
According to Al Jazeera US: "Urban Shield opponents were outraged when a promotional video for the program showed SWAT teams containing “domestic terrorists” in a simulation of what looks like an Occupy Oakland demonstration."
Uber's fellow sponsors include The Armored Group ("redefining the the tactical vehicle industry by offering full lines of armored and nonarmored law enforcement / tactical vehicles"), AirCover Integrated Solutions Corp. (tactical drones), and The Counter Terrorist Magazine (the journal "for Law Enforcement, Intelligence & Special Operations Professionals").
Given Peter Thiel's involvement with defense and domestic policing contractor Palantir and now Uber's support of police militarization, we're getting a clearer picture of where Valley libertarians stand on the issue. The government is bad... and police militarization is a threat to our liberty. Buuuuuuut, the warrior cop's money is as good as anyone's. Business is business.