An emotional crowd nearly shut down the Berkeley City Council multiple times Tuesday night during a public comment period that lasted the better part of four hours.
About 50 people spoke to council — and many more were in attendance — to share concerns about racial profiling as well as the actions of police on Saturday, Dec. 6, when officers used tear gas, projectiles and baton hits to control and clear a crowd that refused to disperse from Telegraph Avenue after several hours of demonstrations around the city.
Council members considered but rejected the possibility of scheduling a special meeting this month to discuss the events of Dec. 6, and how police should interact with protesters going forward.
See complete Berkeleyside coverage of the recent Berkeley protests.
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates announced that council will hold a special meeting Jan. 17 that’s set to include a panel of experts as well as workshops for more interactive discussion of critical issues.
The meeting is slated to take place at the Ed Roberts Campus, at 3075 Adeline St. (It is not yet posted on the city calendar, but should ultimately appear there with full details.)
Many speakers said they don’t want council to wait until January to discuss the issues that have arisen nationally in recent months regarding police brutality, and have rocked Berkeley since early December with near-daily protests that at times have turned violent and destructive.
Officials said they chose the date in January, in part, to allow students, who are about to leave on winter break, to participate.
“They have been at the forefront in demonstrations the last two and a half weeks and I think it would be unfair to deny them access to that meeting,” Councilman Laurie Capitelli told attendees.
Some speakers said that approach may well backfire, as protests are likely to continue in the city. They told council that more leadership is needed to limit the police response prior to the January meeting.
Councilman Kriss Worthington tried to rally the support of his colleagues to schedule an emergency meeting within the next week to discuss recommendations from the city’s Police Review Commission to take tear gas and other “less lethal” force options away from police doing crowd control.
“These are urgent matters. We are in the midst of this now,” said Councilman Max Anderson. “If somebody on this dais is hoping that passions will cool and things will diminish and go away, they’ve got another thing coming.… If we don’t act with expeditious intent, then people will be justified in making a judgment that we are shirking our responsibility.”
Councilman Jesse Arreguín concurred: “It is incumbent on us as elected leaders of this city to take it up as soon as possible.”
Council members Anderson, Arreguín and Lori Droste voted in favor of Worthington’s suggestion for a more timely meeting, but it failed to garner the required two-thirds vote needed for action.
City officials did make time for all those who attended council Tuesday night to express themselves, by adjusting the schedule during separate meetings at both 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
At times, attendees — who numbered about 200 at their peak, according to city staff — shouted down city officials who tried to speak, or broke into vociferous chanting. But, for the most part, they listened intently to each other as community members shared their thoughts and feelings at the microphone.
Many speakers took issue with the police response Dec. 6. Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan has said the trouble started that evening after some protestors threw bottles and other projectiles — such as an ice pick and a sand bag — at police, causing injuries. In the hours that followed, Meehan said police gave dozens or even hundreds of orders for the crowd to disperse, but that a group of people on Telegraph Avenue failed to listen, which ultimately prompted the use of tear gas and projectiles by officers trying to clear the area.
(Berkeleyside has submitted a lengthy list of questions about exactly what took place, and will report back in future coverage as that information is made available.)
Tuesday night, speakers said that it was, to a large extent, a different crowd that had gathered on Telegraph Avenue — which had not been party to earlier aggression toward police — and that those who were teargassed, struck with batons, menaced with flash bang grenades and hit with projectiles were part of a mostly peaceful group that included many UC Berkeley students.
“There were real troublemaking individuals in the protests,” Jeremy Faludi told council. “But they were a tiny minority, and protests happened everywhere across the country with troublemaking minorities in them. Only here in Berkeley did it escalate to riots. I believe that’s because of Berkeley police’s paramilitary response, before trouble ever started.”
Speakers said seeing police in riot gear exacerbated the situation, as did the appearance of an armored vehicle from Hayward that they said was more appropriate for military operations than for community policing.
Other speakers talked more generally about what they believe is the unfair treatment of minorities by some officers in Berkeley and around the nation. Mansour Id-Deen, president of the Berkeley NAACP, said council had in June approved a new policy designed to cut down on racial profiling and track data for the demographics of police contacts. He said the Berkeley Police Department has yet to implement that policy, however, and asked council to set a deadline for officers to begin using it. (Berkeleyside has asked the Berkeley Police Department for more information.)
Added East Bay ACLU board member Elliot Halpern: “I don’t think everyone on this council understands that there is a double standard of policing in this city.”
One high school student, Trinity Harris, said she was among the group to get teargassed Dec. 6. She told the council she was “ashamed” to see how it had handled the situation thus far.
“We are supposed to be looking up to you,” the teenager told city officials Tuesday night. “You’re aimlessly teargassing your kids because we are out here, too. And we are pissed off. Get your shit together.”
Speakers said the city needs to act quickly to direct police to act with restraint, and to ensure that its process and investigation into what happened Dec. 6 is transparent. Others said part of the problem is a lack of oversight, and asserted that the city’s Police Review Commission does not have enough authority to oversee police activity effectively in Berkeley.
“The police are acting as if they were ruling the city,” local activist and attorney Osha Neumann told council. “Right now we’re in a very dangerous situation, and it’s gotta stop.”
See Berkeleyside’s Storify post for more public comments from Tuesday night’s meeting.
Protests expected at Berkeley council meeting Tuesday (12.16.14)
Police warn South Berkeley to prepare for protests (12.16.14)
Op-eds on protests: Myths, perspectives, the role of the library, and the approach of BAMN (12.16.14)
Neighbors complain about police commandeering street to get ready for protests (12.15.14)
‘Double header’ council meetings set for Tuesday, 2 protests also planned (12.15.14)
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