2 Berkeley students arrested on suspicion of hate crime, vandalism

A local resident saw this graffiti in the neighborhood June 28 at Ellsworth and Channing. A car at Ellsworth and Haste “had its hood spray painted saying F*#k gentrification.” Photo: Theresa Martin Kalofonos

Update, 9:37 p.m. A second student has been arrested in connection with the case, according to online records from the sheriff’s office. He’s identified in the Inmate Locator system as 21-year-old Peter Estrada. Estrada, also a UC Berkeley student, was arrested on a warrant in Berkeley at 5:10 p.m. Friday. He is being held on $85,000 bail on suspicion of the same crimes Chamu is alleged to have committed. Both are set for arraignment Monday.

Original post, July 14, 11:23 a.m. A UC Berkeley student who said Berkeley police racially profiled him when they arrested him near campus in late June is back in jail in connection with a vandalism and hate crime case BPD said it was investigating last week.

Ismael Chamu, 21, was arrested on a warrant at his San Francisco home at 9 p.m. Thursday, according to Alameda County sheriff’s office records online.

Chamu is being held at Berkeley Jail on $85,000 bail on suspicion of felony vandalism causing $400 or more in damage, the commission of a hate crime, hate crime enhancements and conspiracy, said Sgt. Andrew Frankel, Berkeley police spokesman. No other arrests have been made in connection with the case.


Police said last week that they had tallied more than 35 instances of vandalism, including graffiti on cars and fences, and slashed tires on at least 17 vehicles, in the Southside neighborhood along several blocks of Prospect Street near Hillside Avenue that appeared June 28. The graffiti included phrases such as “fuck white people,” and is therefore considered a hate crime, BPD said.

Frankel said Friday that the department will have no further comment until after the case has been presented to the Alameda County district attorney’s office Monday.

BPD is now classifying a spate of vandalism last week as a hate crime. Photos: BPD

Chamu was first arrested by BPD on suspicion of a weapons violation at 3 a.m. June 28 — within the same timeframe and neighborhood as the vandalism. Police said afterward that an officer saw Chamu hide what turned out to be an illegal spring-loaded knife as officers approached him and another young man in connection with what later was determined to be an unrelated burglary investigation. Readers wondered last week whether there might be ties between the cases due to the knife possession, tire slashing, and proximity of the arrest and vandalism, but police initially declined to comment.

According to BPD, Chamu and the other individual were detained that morning “because they matched the broadcast description” from a “‘hot prowl’ burglary” — where victims are inside at the time of the crime. (They were later determined to have no involvement in that incident.) As police approached, BPD said, an officer saw Chamu duck behind a vehicle and appear to set something down. Authorities said an officer recovered a knife under that vehicle during the subsequent investigation. According to a photograph of the knife provided by BPD, it was a 6-inch knife with a 2.5-inch blade. Police arrested Chamu on suspicion of possession of an illegal weapon.

Chamu of Los Banos was not charged in that case, but he wrote online the night of his release from jail about what he described as racial profiling and discriminatory language used against him by authorities because, he said, he is Mexican. The post went viral and was shared online thousands of times.

Details about the June 28 vandalism appeared on private social network Nextdoor: “Multiple cars, and fences were spray painted with Anarchist symbols, painting out license plates and slogans such as, F$%# white people, Class Warfare sometime during the night,” one local resident near Hillside Avenue and Prospect Street wrote.

The messages also included “FTP,” an anti-police term. Another resident who saw the original Nextdoor post initially brought it to Berkeleyside’s attention.

In recent months, Chamu posted on Facebook to criticize police and the legal system, gentrification, the tech industry, “the right wing” and “their free speech,” liberals, progressives and the Democratic Party.

His account is no longer publicly visible.

After protests in Berkeley earlier this year, Chamu also posted in support of the antifascist movement and said police protected white supremacists and were “hand in hand with Nazis” during demonstrations in town.

Chamu is studying public health and political science, according to his LinkedIn page. He recently completed his junior year.

Chamu is the co-president of the Pre-Law Coalition for Social Justice, and works as a substitute teacher for the West Contra Costa Unified School District.

According to online records from the sheriff’s office, Chamu is scheduled for arraignment Monday at the Wiley Manuel Courthouse in downtown Oakland.

Update, 1:25 p.m. Berkeleyside reached out to Mayor Jesse Arreguín after publication when readers brought up a comment he made on Facebook, as reported in a prior Berkeleyside article, soon after Chamu’s original post. A community member tagged Arreguín to alert him to Chamu’s story, and he responded, “Unacceptable that this happened.” That sentiment was shared by many people who read Chamu’s account. The Berkeleyside article about the arrest, which included additional information and was the first media outlet report to be published, was posted the next day.

Arreguín said Friday afternoon by email that, “Without having specific facts from BPD, which I requested, but had not received at that time, I posted that comment. I probably should have phrased it differently maybe stating ‘if the allegations were true.’ I can see how people would perceive my comment to mean that I had jumped to conclusions.”

Arreguín said he later received information from BPD Chief Andrew Greenwood about the Chamu arrest, “including the investigation into vandalism and hate crimes, and BPD’s belief that he may have been responsible but that they were looking further into it. Those facts contradicted Mr. Chamu’s story.”

Arreguín said he has asked BPD to provide information to him in the future as quickly as possible “so I have all the facts and can make informed comments to the public. I will also withhold judgement until I have all the facts.”

In light of Thursday night’s arrest, Arreguín called the BPD allegations “serious and very alarming,” and said Chamu should be held accountable for them if the court finds him responsible.

“Racist and anti-police rhetoric is completely unacceptable, as is vandalism of any kind. This kind of extremist behavior only fosters hate, harms innocent people and continues to perpetuate a climate where Police are put at risk. All of which are completely unacceptable,” he said. “We will follow this case as it goes through the legal process, including the allegations by Mr. Chamu of police misconduct and racially charged comments by law enforcement.”