More than 100 community members turned out to the Berkeley Public Library over the weekend to share or hear stories about what they believe is on-going racial profiling and harassment of minorities in Berkeley by local police officers.
The Berkeley NAACP organized the standing-room-only event, entitled “Berkeley Police – Power & Abuse,” at the south branch of the library Saturday afternoon.
Local residents, and representatives from the Berkeley NAACP and the Berkeley/North East Bay Chapter of the ACLU, took turns describing experiences they have had, or heard about, with the Berkeley Police Department. (Police were not invited to attend the session, Police Chief Michael Meehan said last week.)
A member of Berkeley’s Peace & Justice Commission, George Lippman, also informed attendees about a proposal approved in March by the Police Review Commission under which officers would report demographic data for police stops in a format that would be available for public review. That recommendation would allow the community to assess who is getting stopped and, according to advocates, discourage officers from paying unfair attention to any particular group.
Currently, Berkeley Police record data about vehicle stops, but data about other types of contacts — such as stops of pedestrians and bicyclists — is not collected unless there is an arrest.
According to Elliot Halpern of the ACLU, the Berkeley Police Department has “committed to move it forward,” but has not provided a timeline for adopting the new policy.
Councilman Jesse Arreguín said Saturday at the forum that he plans to bring up that proposal before the Berkeley City Council on June 3 to push the plan forward. Council members Max Anderson and Kriss Worthington, as well as Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, also were in attendance for parts of Saturday’s forum.
Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats said Monday that proposal, for Fair and Impartial Policing, actually came from within the Police Department, and had been making the rounds to various advisory groups within the city, including the Police Review Commission, the NAACP and the ACLU. She said it’s currently being reviewed by several Berkeley police associations, and that it’s in the final stages prior to adoption. She said, however, that she did not know exactly when it would be put in place. Coats said some officers have already received training in the new system, however.
“We expect our officers to treat everybody with dignity and respect, and be professional, which we believe our officers do,” Coats said.
Mansour Id-Deen, Berkeley NAACP president, said the goal of Saturday’s event was to continue collecting stories of concern from the community, and to come up with some potential solutions to turn over to the police department.
“It appears that, in some ways, we have two Berkeleys,” he told attendees Saturday. “We have one group of people in Berkeley that feel the weight of racial profiling and discrimination, and we have another group, where it’s not happening to them, and they don’t understand what we are talking about.”
Throughout the 3-hour session, approximately a dozen anecdotes were shared about stops or police interactions speakers said they felt were unfair, inappropriate and race-related.
Halpern, of the ACLU, said the organization had also received “sworn testimony from a city official of at least 20 vehicle stops of people of color without probable cause.”
Individual anecdotes ranged from descriptions of car stops by officers where people said there had been no legitimate reason for the stop and that they ultimately had been released without penalty; to stories about the repeated stops of non-criminal minority community members for no apparent reason other than race; to more serious allegations, including a home search one Hispanic family felt was unfair — and reportedly involved the questioning of a young child by several officers; and the in-custody death last year of Kayla Moore, a black transgender woman.
Several in attendance also said they had come to the meeting after seeing a video taken about a week ago when police stopped a small group of black friends alleged to have nearly caused a traffic accident due to jaywalking. Some of the individuals who were stopped said they believe they were targeted because of their race; police have disputed that claim, and said that it was a “dangerous pedestrian violation” that caught their attention.
A woman who was arrested on suspicion of obstruction during that incident, LaTasha Pollard, said she had been traumatized by the struggle that ensued when police took her into custody.
“One of the officers physically attacked me, slammed me on the ground,” she said. “I know how to follow rules but none of that mattered that night.… It’s not only one community’s struggle, it’s all of our struggle. We are all fighting against it.”
One Berkeley resident — who asked not to be identified because she works in the local schools and feared reprisal — said she attended the meeting on behalf of a “group of young men who said they didn’t want to come because they were concerned that police would see their faces in the audience and target them in the community.” But she said they told her “they are stopped by the police when they are walking. They are harassed. And we do need to hear them.”
Family members of two young men who were arrested in March, after the robbery of a middle school boy in West Berkeley, said they did not feel they had been treated fairly by police. The mother of the two said her younger son who was arrested had been taken out of school by police without notice, and that she hadn’t been allowed to see him in juvenile hall.
A cousin of the two said police had come to the family home with a warrant that appeared to be missing key information, and that officers had conducted a search of the home that the family felt was inappropriate. During the search, the cousin said, four officers took a 6-year-old boy into a room without his parents and “interrogated him for 30 minutes.”
“They are here for protecting us, but I feel that they’re here to harass,” the mother said of police, adding that her young boy who had been questioned is now “nervous” and “scared” when he sees officers. “We’ve been living for 22 years in Berkeley. We never had a bad experience. But, for the last two years, it’s been really affecting us a lot how they are treating us. They been treating us like criminals.”
Attendees also said they are concerned about a school system that does not seem to be able to provide the necessary services to help the community’s children succeed, and the pressure caused by increasing gentrification. One asked for better conflict resolution training for Berkeley officers, and several said they are worried about a current proposal to study the ramifications of arming Berkeley Police with Tasers.
Barbara White, Berkeley NAACP vice president, said the organization is absolutely opposed to Tasers in Berkeley. She said she has serious misgivings about the use of the weapon on minorities, as well as health risks that are associated with stun gun shocks, particularly in relation to unknown medical histories.
“The Tasing just becomes another way of basically violating black and brown people for the most part by torturing them by Tasing,” she said. “It’s a no, no. We’re opposing Tasers.”
Carl Butler, an extended member of the Moore family — which has filed a lawsuit against the city in connection with Kayla Moore’s in-custody death last year — said he had become very troubled about the Berkeley Police Department in the aftermath of that incident. He called for the replacement of Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan, as well as the “higher echelon” of city administrators, and said major changes are in order.
“Racial profiling, gender profiling, gay rights being violated, human rights in general being violated…something needs to be done,” he said. “It’s hard not to do something when you’re seeing so much pain in one room that various families have felt at the hands of the police.”
[Correction: It was a member of Berkeley's Peace & Justice Commission, George Lippman, who described a proposal for new data collection standards by the Berkeley Police Department on Saturday. Those standards would allow for improved public review and analysis of data for police stops, Lippman said Monday. The article has been corrected to reflect these points. The number of attendees also was corrected to reflect sign-in sheet information received Monday.]
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