Berkeley City Council limits police tear gas use, for now

Moni Law (right) speaks with Cal student Thanh Bercher during Tuesday's council meeting. Both have said they were injured by police Dec. 6 during a protest in Berkeley. Behind them, the line of people waiting to speak to ask council to take action about police discrimination. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Moni Law (right) speaks with Cal student Thanh Bercher during Tuesday’s council meeting. Both have said they were injured by police Dec. 6 during a protest in Berkeley. Behind them, the line of people waiting to speak to ask council to take action about police discrimination. Photo: Emilie Raguso

The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to temporarily suspend tear gas use by police as a way to control non-violent crowds.

The vote also suspended the use of other chemical agents, rubber bullets and other projectiles, and over-the-shoulder baton strikes as crowd control methods used by Berkeley officers during non-violent protests. The temporary policy will remain in place until an investigation by the city’s Police Review Commission into protests in Berkeley last December is complete.

Read more Berkeley protests coverage on Berkeleyside.

The item, put forward by Councilman Jesse Arreguín, was part of package of protest-related decisions council made Tuesday night. Council also voted to support the Police Review Commission’s investigation, as well as demands by the national group “Ferguson Action” regarding efforts to curtail unfair treatment by police of people of color.


Dozens of people, including many local students, marched through the city before the council meeting, and flooded into council chambers to testify about the need for police accountability, and about why they felt action is needed.

Council listened to hours of testimony about the Berkeley protests Tuesday night. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Council listened to hours of testimony about the Berkeley protests Tuesday night. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Arreguín specified that only peaceful protesters would be exempt from use of force. He referred his fellow officials to four categories of “nonviolent demonstrators” listed in a 1992 Berkeley Police policy. Those include demonstrators who are cooperative, nonviolent/noncooperative, nonviolent/resistive and nonviolent active. (See page 9 of the report for more detail.)

Wednesday, Sgt. Chris Stines, a Berkeley officer and president of the Berkeley Police Assocation, described the measure as a “workable compromise.”

“The main point here is that we still have the ability to protect public safety and to protect ourselves in instances where there is clear and present danger,” he said. “There’s a difference between a violent crowd and a non-violent protest. We have historically always done an excellent job of distinguishing between the two. I think it would have been a mistake to completely remove those tools from our toolbox during an emergency situation, and they didn’t do that last night.”

Stines said that, despite extensive public testimony to the contrary, the Dec. 6-7 demonstrations in Berkeley were “extremely violent.” In December, more than 25 Berkeley officers were injured by projectiles from the crowd and other instances of violence. Stines said many of the officers remain either completely off work as a result, or not back in a full capacity.


Speakers testified for hours about changes needed into the culture of policing, in Berkeley and around the country. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Speakers, including David Turner (left) and Brittney Enin (center) — both UC Berkeley students — testified for hours about changes needed into the culture of policing, in Berkeley and around the country. Photo: Emilie Raguso
A statement written by Nisa Dang, and read out loud by a friend to the Berkeley City Council.
A statement written by Nisa Dang, and read out loud by a friend to the Berkeley City Council on Tuesday night.

Tuesday night, many speakers — most of whom were students — described ongoing trauma they experienced after being teargassed on Telegraph Avenue or injured by police who pushed the crowd south and attempted to get it to disperse Dec. 6. One Cal student said she had to take medical leave from her coursework this semester to recover, and others said their injuries continued to affect them.

Thanh Bercher, a UC Berkeley student, said she was in the library Dec. 6 when she got “several frantic phone calls” from friends asking her to bring water and milk to Telegraph Avenue, where people believed police would use tear gas. After she arrived, she said police were aggressive in their efforts to disperse the crowd.

“They asked us to move down the street and, instead of just moving with us at an even pace, they would jab us in the ribs,” she told council. “They grabbed me by both of my arms and began to drag me forward. My pants ripped, and my knees were bleeding. Two people tried to pick me up and they were beaten with batons as well.”

One young man showed council a picture of a large bruise he received from a rubber bullet, and said an officer had winked at him before shooting the projectile at him. Some said they were struck and hurt by officers when they tried to provide medical aid to others who were injured. (Only one individual complaint related to police use of force in December has been filed with the city, in addition to two policy complaints.)

Berkeley homelessness advocate Michael Diehl and others said they were unhappy about redacted documents released recently by the Berkeley Police Department. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Berkeley homelessness advocate Michael Diehl and others said they are unhappy about redacted documents released recently by the Berkeley Police Department, and that police must be more transparent about what took place in December. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Council members said they are intent on knowing the full scale of what took place in Berkeley during the December demonstrations. They voted Tuesday night to require the conclusion of the Police Review Commission’s investigation within six months. Arreguín said he was committed to making sure there is “meaningful change” in Berkeley as a result of the findings of that report, which will be publicly available.


Some questioned, however, the ability of the Police Review Commission to do an independent investigation, as it does not have outside legal representation to assist in the endeavor, and may have limited ability to subpoena records or force the police department to turn over documents. Andrea Prichett, co-founder of Berkeley Copwatch, said the group intends to conduct a “people’s investigation” in conjunction with the ACLU and National Lawyers Guild to ensure the work is unbiased.

George Lippman, who is a member of the city’s Peace & Justice and Police Review commissions, told council he welcomes the increased scrutiny.

“There can be a number of investigations and, the more that there are, the more we’re going to find out,” he said. “This will not work without true insight into information that the department is holding onto very close to their chest.”

A playlist of videos from a few of speakers at the meeting follows. (Use the forward button to skip to the next speaker.) 

Related:
Berkeley students march to push for police reforms (02.11.15)
Police release redacted reports on Berkeley protests (02.10.15)
The lowdown: Council on protests, police body cameras, gender-neutral restrooms, more (02.10.15)
Exclusive: 23-minute delay for paramedics during Berkeley protests, patient later died (02.05.15)
The lowdown: Council on energy ordinance, protests, police cameras, goBerkeley, more (01.27.15)
Black Cal students repaint The Big C to reflect African flag (01.26.15)
Citizen panel on police to launch Berkeley protests probe (01.29.15)
Berkeley town hall examines race, police relations (01.18.15)
Residents air concerns about police staging to Police Review Commission (01.15.15)
For black students at UC Berkeley, protests are about Ferguson — and their own lives (01.15.15)
The lowdown: Council on Berkeley protests and police relations, zoning board appeals (01.13.15)
Berkeley Police Q&A: Tear gas use, protest costs, more (01.08.15)
Arrested anti-police protesters may wait up to a year to find out if they will be charged (01.07.15)
Protesters stage ‘Black Brunch’ on Berkeley’s Fourth Street (01.05.15)

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