Despite eviction notice, no raid on Occupy Berkeley

Craig Evans keeps watch as his wife sleeps in their tent. Photo: David Yee

By Frances Dinkelspiel and Judith Scherr

Under the threat of eviction, protestors at Occupy Berkeley took down about 40 tents in Civic Center Park Wednesday night, preparing for the raid that never came.

As a 10 pm deadline to stop camping in the park loomed, many activists were packing up their gear and loading it up on trucks. Some had stashed their possessions in a safe place, but had returned to the park to confront the police if they showed up. Soon, only about 29 out of about 70 tents remained.

“I’ve got my stuff packed but I’m not leaving,” a man who identified himself as Cincinnati said as the deadline loomed. “I’m going to take the streets.”

But the desire to confront police and stand ground was shared by only some of the 150 people who have made up Occupy Berkeley. Maxina Ventura, who has been staying in the park off and on with her children ever since it started two months ago, took down her tent on Wednesday. She said she could no longer stand behind the radical fringe of protestors who seemed determined to fight police at all costs.

“We had to make it clear we were not a front for those people,” said Ventura.

Berkeley police, acting on orders from interim City Manager Christine Daniel, handed out notices on Dec. 20 that the city would no longer look the other way during the park’s 10 pm to 6 am curfew.

Wednesday evening, police walked through the park two separate times, before 6 pm and at 7:30 pm, handing out copies of the park’s curfew rules and fliers about social services. When they came to one vacant tent in the earlier walk through, they picked it up and carried it across the street to the police station, upsetting some people who thought someone was inside. However, when it became clear that no person was in the tent, the crowd simply puzzled over the reason for the tent removal at that time. The police were jeered when they returned to the park later.

Police hand out eviction notices at Occupy Berkeley. Photo: Judith Scherr

The eviction notice came as conditions in the park have deteriorated. On Tuesday, someone was arrested for attempted rape. On Dec. 5 and 6, there was two assaults with a deadly weapon, according to police. There have been several cases of food poisoning from food served at the communal kitchen. Trash litters the park and police have issued 46 citations since Dec. 15 to people smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol.

“There has continued to be an increase in serious crimes and violence,” Berkeley police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said in a statement. “(Police) would like the individuals in the park to follow the law voluntarily.”

But the 10 pm deadline to leave came and went. There was little sign of activity at police headquarters across Martin Luther King Street. Around 10:30, a lone police car pulled into the department’s parking lot and a police officer said he had not heard of any plans for a nocturnal raid.

The scene at the park was anything but quiet, however. A group of Jewish protestors lit menorah candles for the second night of Hanukkah under a big white tent. Others strung lights on a large flocked Christmas tree sitting in the center of the park.

Occupy Berkeley members decorate Christmas tree. Photo: David Yee

Steve Leeds of Berkeley lights a menorah candle in honor of the second night of Hanukkah at the Occupy Berkeley encampment. Photo: David Yee

The tension was evident, though, as some protestors yelled at others while they were dismantling the camp.

When a reporter for Channel 4 KRON news was doing a standup and mentioned that there were only 12 tents left in the park, an angry protestor interrupted his shot and yelled there were 29 tents. When a reporter for Channel 5 was talking for the 11 pm newscast, a protestor with a bandanna over his face stepped into the shot and started shouting about the bourgeois media. He later got into a shouting match with Ventura, accusing her of being a sell out because she had a home.

One protestor, Steven, who would not give his last name, said only a small percentage of the people at Occupy Berkeley are actual protestors; the rest are ‘wingnuts” or people who are a bit crazy and are looking for a fight.

“”Twenty-five percent of campers are actual protestors; the rest are hangers-on.”

Cynthia Trahan, left, from Ventura, and Stephen Bell, from Placerville, set up camp again at Occupy Berkeley in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in Berkeley late Wednesday, December 21, after it appeared that a promised crackdown would not materialize. Photo: David Yee

But other people stood around peacefully, observing the scene. City Councilmen Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin were in and out of the park all evening. They were unhappy that Daniel had not informed them about the eviction plans, but agreed that the current situation could not continue indefinitely. “What went into making that decision?” Arreguin asked, “I don’t know, honestly. I wish they’d told us.”

Both Worthington and Arreguin said they hoped any eviction would be peaceful and not be a repeat of the police confrontations in Oakland.

“Eventually the city is going to remove the people remaining,” said Arreguin. “It’s a public park. There are events that haven’t been happening because of the occupation. I don’t want there to be violence. I don’t want there to be destruction of property.”

Occupyers gather to talk. Photo: Judith Scherr

Earlier in the evening, Occupy Berkeley members gathered for a 6 pm General Assembly to discuss the Dec. 20 eviction notice. The mood was generally that of resignation to eviction by police from the two-month-old encampment. Speakers acknowledged that it was time to leave. Using the “people’s mic,” where everyone repeats the speaker’s words, one man said he’d been to four different Occupy encampments and was in four different police raids.

“What I have found is that Occupy Berkeley is at the end of its natural life cycle,” he said, noting that the focus had turned to feeding the homeless rather than building a movement. “This is not a sustainable environment,” he said.

Others addressed the question of increasing violence. “Unfortunately, the police had reasons for dismantling the camp,” said one woman. “We tried our best, but the camp peacekeepers were not able to keep the camp safe and peaceful and sustainable.” Elizabeth Gill, who had defended the camp’s reputation when speaking to Berkeleyside a few weeks ago, said she had a change of heart after directly experiencing violence in the camp.

In a separate interview, Phoebe Sorgen, a member of the city’s Peace and Justice Commission and the Occupy Berkeley facilitation committee, said she had been working with Councilmember Jesse Arreguin to extract troublemakers from the camp and move it to another park which would be drug, alcohol and violence free. But the eviction came too quickly for the plan to be put in place, she said.

Sorgen said she thought things started going downhill when people evicted from Occupy Oakland started coming to Berkeley. “Some of them were wonderful people, including a yoga teacher who slept in a tree in a sack,” she said. “But some of them were big trouble makers.” There was a similar migration of those evicted from Occupy San Francisco. “We are now outnumbered by troublemakers,” Sorgen said.

The general assembly tried to address next steps for the occupiers. Michael Delacour suggested shutting down Shattuck Avenue the next day, to impact the Christmas shopping period, but few agreed. “Our primary action needs to be about saving ourselves tonight,” someone said, “Worrying about banks and streets – we’re not ready to deal with this.”

Members of the Occupy Berkeley encampment clean up in case they are removed from Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park late Wednesday, December 21. Photo: David Yee

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  • Do you have any context for this video? It says it was taken at 1:10 am.

    (And also, a side note, not every reader knows what you mean when you say the reporter was “doing a standup.” Just throwing that out there.)

  • berkeleyCommonSense

    It is entirely up to the “protesters” if there is violence or not. They have been allowed to stay, they ruined it by allowing a minority to become the symbol of their movement. They have been asked to police themselves, they could not. They are being told to leave by the city of berkeley’s PoliceDepartment, who speak and act for the citizens of Berkeley, they must comply. The most honest statement ever written about the occupiers is in this article. A few wing nuts are determined to fight the police…well, they are OUR police, so I guess they’re fighting us.

  • Anonymous

    This is a really well done write up, Frances and Judith.  I particularly appreciate the lack of dramatic excess found in some other publications.  The contrast with the absurdly inflammatory language in, say, the Berkeley Daily Planet, is stark.  Example, they have a headline that says Berkeley Police “march” into camp to distribute shelter information.  Not “walk,” “stroll,” “amble,” but “march”:  to distribute shelter information!  Being a police officer is hard enough without that nonsense and I appreciate your more measured tone a lot.

    Your summary of the latest criminal activity omitted a more recent and serious crime:  the police reported someone being stabbed on the 17th with a 12-inch hunting knife.  

    I’m dying to know:  what was the new violence, drug, and alcohol-free park Phoebe and Jesse had in mind? Do you have any other details about this plan and how they expected to realize it after seeing the current encampment go off the rails?  If not, I hope Anthony Sanchez will chime in with specifics from Jesse’s side.

  • Jesse Townley

    Is there a longer version of that video on-line to see more of the situation yet?

  • Jesse Townley

    Elected officials- specifically Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, in whose district the park lies- were knee-deep in resolving the health & safety issues in a transparent respectful manner. It’s troubling that the City Manager’s office ignored those efforts and didn’t even notify Jesse that this was going to happen.

    It is unclear to me why unelected- i.e. unaccountable to the citizens of Berkeley- staff feel fine with moving forward with an eviction process that has the very real possibility of being followed up with violence and lots of police OT.

    We didn’t elect the City Manager or the Police Chief. I expect the elected officials- the Mayor & the City Council- to give direction to the CM & the Chief. Those 2 staff leaders should collaborate & cooperate with the Mayor & City Council when there is a direct overlap in mediation and problem-solving, as in this instance.

    If there is a time-sensitive crisis, obviously the staff has to move quickly, but that isn’t the case here. Better a mediated solution that preserves the aims of the Occupy movement and segregates out the non-Occupy activity than a “solution” like a stark eviction notice that prompts a stand-off and exacerbates tension within our community.

    When I was there for a couple hours last night (both before & after the 10pm deadline) I found no one who felt that the encampment was all Occupy Berkeley. There was definitely a feeling that it was time to refocus and probably shut down the camp, but events like this morning’s shoving match between BPD & Occupy derail positive progress.

    If there is more violence and turmoil, I think the CM & the Police Chief have to accept some responsibility for moving forward with a blunt eviction process.

  • Lhasa7

    Maybe the patience of the taxpaying electorate with the shameless irrelevant grandstanding of the Berkeley City Council, as well as the boutique-Leninist stylings of the risible “Peace and Justice Commission,” has finally come to an end.

  • Ever since the takeover by O’Malley, the Berkeley Daily Planet has been a highly politicized propaganda publication, and makes no real attempt at objectivity.

    I used to keep a running log of examples of clear bias in the paper for my own amusement, but eventually got bored with the project because the examples were so plentiful.

  • Jesse Townley

    At least we can vote out City Councilmembers who make questionable decisions.

    Has the taxpaying electorate decided that we prefer staff to make questionable decisions? If so, my ballot must’ve gotten lost in the mail.

  • Jesse Townley

    I like this article as well. Every media source has bias, and it’s up to us to read between the lines & evaluate each one to get closer to the truth.

  • I’d like to voice my appreciation to the Berkeley Police Department and interim City Manager Christine Danie for taking some strong steps towards shutting down this political-protest-turned-illegal-homeless-encampment.

    I wish the cleanup had started sooner, and I wish Occupy had transitioned into a real political movement instead of just being a populist temper tantrum that accomplished nothing of lasting importance, but it is what it is.

  • Why is it the City staff’s job to “preserve the aims of the Occupy movement and segregate out the non-Occupy activity?”

    If Occupy Berkeley can’t police themselves, then they need to leave. They’re already in violation of the law. City staff time shouldn’t be wasted trying to organize an illegal encampment.

  • BerkeleyCommonSense

    The berkeley city council, and other “elected” city officials have no training in Law Enforcement, have no knowledge of the law and how it is applied.  It is up to the police to enforce laws, they should not be waiting for the city council to tell them anything, they should act to protect the citizens of berkeley, as they have been doing, and as they are paid to do.

  • AwwCmon

    The next time someone is vandalizing property in my neighborhood should I call Jesse Arreguin before I call the police????

  • Bill

    If the following comment is symbolic of what the Occupy Movement’s approach they have not only lost the battle but the war as well.  “Michael Delacour suggested shutting down Shattuck Avenue the next day, to impact the Christmas shopping period.”  Except for a three banks and maybe three cell phone stores (I lose count these days) most Shattuck businesses are small local merchants and lunch places hiring the 99% and probably owned by the 99%.   

  • Bruce Love

    It depends on the specific details of the situation.

  • Oki

    Uh, did you read the part about how no one wanted to go along with Michael on that dumb plan? Doesn’t that mean that the democratic structure of Occupy worked the way it is supposed to?

  • Last I heard, there was this silly thing called the 1st Amendment….

  • Bill

    You’re right though it seemed that they wanted to address
    “saving ourselves tonight,” … “Worrying about banks and streets – we’re not ready to deal with this.” The group did recognize what was important to the well being of the “Occupiers” but I think the larger message was lost some time ago and the suggestion of shutting down showed just that lack of a focus and plan.