Wednesday night’s clearing of tents and other property belonging to campers at the downtown Berkeley Post Office, who have been on site protesting the building’s sale since late July, was not planned in advance, police said Friday.
“I believe the opportunity presented itself, rather than it being an operation where we pull people in [for extra support],” said Berkeley Police Capt. Andrew Greenwood on Friday.
Supporters who hope to protect the building have been fighting against what they see as a march toward the privatization of the U.S. Postal Service for over a year. In late July, campers set up tents and signs, and began sleeping at the site, to raise awareness about their cause.
Wednesday night, while many of the campers attended an event in Oakland, Berkeley police officers went to the downtown Berkeley Post Office, at 2000 Allston Way, and removed property that had been left on the site.
Greenwood said an officer in the area at about 8:15 p.m. found the camp “largely unattended,” then “called for some resources to move away the unattended property.” About 10 officers assisted with the effort, which involved moving tents and other encampment-related items into a truck.
The property was taken to the Berkeley Transfer Station, at Second and Gilman streets, where it can be claimed by its owners. Greenwood said police left signs and at least one table in the area, because “the postal service had extended an offer that they [activists] could have an area to express their point of view.”
He said a couple campers who were still at the post office “packed up on their own and left,” and that police had “very little contact with them.” He said no one was told to leave, arrested, threatened with arrest or forcibly removed from the area.
Earlier in the evening, shortly after 7 p.m., police did make two arrests outside the post office, but Greenwood said neither one was related to the camp clean-up.
At 7:05 p.m., a 21-year-old Berkeley man approached someone sitting at one of the tables in front of the post office, began yelling, and slammed his hand down on the table. Police said he turned the table over, causing everything on it to fall on the ground, and threatened the person who had been seated there. Police arrested the man and booked him into the Berkeley Jail. About 10 minutes later, an officer on site saw, riding by the property, a 51-year-old Berkeley man who appeared to want to confront someone at the post office. Police said they observed him to be in possession of a dangerous weapon, and arrested him on suspicion of that offense. He too was arrested and booked into jail.
Greenwood said Berkeley Police had been going to the encampment routinely for more than a week and, “as incidents began to increase there, including an increase in arrests, it became more the focus of our attention.”
(Some of these incidents were outlined in a memo by Berkeley’s city manager to the Berkeley City Council on Monday. Some activists involved with the post office protests have taken issue with the incidents listed in the memo, saying in comments on Berkeleyside that some ”took place blocks away from the Post Office,” others “involved camp participants as victims” and others “had nothing to do with the encampment at all.”)
Greenwood said police had taken a patient, non-confrontational approach, using “communication and dialogue” as they had issued warnings and notifications about trespassing to campers on multiple occasions: “The actions that we took in terms of removing the unattended material was only after many warnings were given and notice was given.”
Berkeley Police handled the clean-up, he said, because the postal police have, in the past, asked for assistance and don’t have the resources “to address a problem of this particular kind.”
Activists hoping to stop the sale of the post office have planned a press conference and meeting Saturday morning at 11:30 a.m. at the downtown Berkeley Post Office to share information about Wednesday’s police action and discuss future steps.
Accounts clash on reason for post office camp departure (08.29.13)
Postal Commission rejects Berkeley mayor’s appeal (08.28.13)
Protester stabbed in thigh at Berkeley Post Office camp (08.16.13)
Feds agree to hear mayor’s plea to halt post office sale (08.12.13)
U.S. Post Office erects fence at Berkeley’s Elmwood site (08.09.13)
Berkeley post office protesters decline to move (08.06.13)
Protesters told to leave steps of Berkeley post office (08.03.13)
Protesters stage a sleep-in to save the Berkeley post office (07.29.13)
Locals, city fight on to stop sale of post office (07.19.13)
Berkeley’s political firmament rallies for post office (05.03.13)
Post Office to sell its downtown Berkeley building (04.22.13)
Developer eyes Berkeley’s historic post office (08.01.12)
Chances are slim of saving Berkeley post office (07.23.12)
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