Update, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 4:35 p.m. A council majority approved a slightly revised version of the mayor’s proposal on arrest information at the end of Tuesday night’s meeting. Councilwomen Cheryl Davila and Kate Harrison and Councilman Ben Bartlett voted against it. It was nearly midnight, and Councilman Kriss Worthington had already left for the night.
The item said police cannot broadcast non-violent arrest information on social media during First Amendment events, as defined by city rules. The item, which Councilwoman Sophie Hahn penned on the dais with input from other council members, also made clear the city’s strong stance against violence, and the carrying of weapons of any kind. The policy does not limit the release of information to the media and removed references to the Public Records Act.
After the meeting, as Berkeleyside reporter Emilie Raguso was attempting to post her final council update of the night on Twitter, Sara Kershnar — Councilwoman Davila’s chief of staff — walked up behind her and jabbed her in the arm as she typed. The subsequent interaction was audio-recorded because Raguso had been recording the meeting as part of her reporting.
“Your racism is amazing,” Kershnar told Raguso, who was surprised by the contact and asked Kershnar repeatedly not to touch her again. “I didn’t even mean to touch you. I wouldn’t want to touch you. You’re gross,” Kershnar replied.
Berkeleyside had attempted to reach Davila and Kershnar several times Tuesday for comment on this story, but got no response until Kershnar’s remarks after the meeting.
Raguso repeatedly asked Kershnar to leave her alone. Kershnar refused, and stood over Raguso as she continued to try to work at the media table.
“For you to imply that Council Member Davila doesn’t have a [sic] agenda of her own, and that it’s being driven by me, is so racist and disgusting,” Kershnar said. “We don’t have to talk to you.”
“I’m not following your logic,” Raguso told Kershnar.
“I’m sure you’re not,” Kershnar said. “But for you to imply that the council member doesn’t have an agenda of her own is extremely racist.”
“I didn’t imply that,” Raguso told her.
The complete audio recording of the exchange appears below.
Original story, Sept. 25, 4:42 p.m. The Berkeley City Council is set to vote Tuesday on a proposal to limit the release by police of “identifying information” and arrest photos amid a wave of concerns from activists who say the tactic has been used to chill political activity.
The city has been posting protest arrest information and photographs on Twitter during protests for more than a year. Officials say they have used that approach to counter a prevailing narrative on social media that laws have not been enforced during protests. Activists, who created a campaign in August to criticize the Twitter photo publication, have argued that police were “doxing” activists so they could be targeted by opponents online.
Earlier this month, Councilwomen Cheryl Davila and Kate Harrison — with the support of Mayor Jesse Arreguín — put forward a sweeping proposal to stop BPD from posting booking photos on social media in most cases, while also saying the city should “resist PRA [Public Records Act] requests for arrest photos and identifying information on individuals that have been arrested when doing so poses a risk to their safety as a result of threats against them.” Their proposal did nothing to limit the restrictive policy to protest events.
In its latest iteration, the pair has tweaked the language slightly, and the mayor has put forward his own version of the item, which strikes the PRA language and says the policy would apply only to arrests during “First Amendment events.” As it stands, both versions of the item are set to be discussed by officials Tuesday night.
Earlier this month — when council members were initially set to vote on the item — First Amendment experts said the “loose, subjective language” of the proposal might give government too much discretion to withhold information made public, in part, to protect the rights of people who are taken into custody themselves.
As it turns out, according to documents obtained by Berkeleyside through a Public Records Act request this week, the Davila proposal received significant input from her chief of staff, Sara Kershnar — who helped lead a large rally at Ohlone Park on Aug. 5 that was organized to counter a smaller event held by right and far-right demonstrators at Civic Center Park.
Kershnar, who MC’d the rally at Ohlone Park before the hundreds of activists who had gathered there marched unsuccessfully for Civic Center Park, edited the Davila proposal extensively, according to the documents obtained by Berkeleyside. Neither Kershnar nor Davila responded Tuesday to multiple interview requests from Berkeleyside.
On the day of the rally, Kershnar, wearing a shirt that read, “Another Jew for a free Palestine,” held a bullhorn and told the crowd, “Security and community defense have nothing to do with the police. Not to engage with the police, not to talk to the police. They are clearly not on our side.”
Kershnar spoke out about local agencies in particular, telling those who had gathered, “the Berkeley Police Department and the Alameda County sheriff have joined forces to try to stop anti-racism, anti-fascism. We are not going to allow them to intimidate us into allowing them to support fascists and white supremists.”
Kershnar was also present that day when police confiscated what they described as “A truck laden with shields.” Police said they towed the truck because it had banned weapons on it. Protesters at Ohlone said officers confiscated their “sound truck” — which had an amplification system on it — and arrested its occupants.
Harrison told Berkeleyside on Tuesday that she is likely to support the mayor’s proposal at the upcoming council meeting.
The mayor’s item states that, “Except as required by state and federal law, no employee of the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) or any other City of Berkeley department shall broadcast (actively promoting through social media, web posting, Nixle alerts, emails, and other proactive communication) the addresses, legal names, arrest photos or other identifying information of people arrested by BPD in First Amendment events, unless the arrestee poses a serious threat to the public safety of the Berkeley community (e.g. persons arrested and released or wanted for serious and violent crimes such as rape, homicide, or felony assault).”
It also notes, on background, that police are already legally allowed to withhold arrest information from the public “if they believe it would endanger the safety” of the arrestee. Exactly what this means, however, is not further defined in the city’s rules guiding information release by the police.
On Aug. 5, police estimated that 100-150 people carrying weapons were part of a crowd of 500-1,000 that marched through Berkeley in an effort to reach a much smaller “No to Marxism” event at Civic Center Park. The bulk of the arrests that day were for alleged weapons and municipal code violations, while others were for battery, the wearing of masks, resisting arrest, vandalism and “riot,” BPD has reported.
Activists have claimed that BPD’s release of arrest information Aug. 5 “contributed to ‘doxing’ people – publishing personal information to be used to harass and threaten people at their homes and places of work” because Fox news and other media outlets picked up the information, according to the Davila proposal. It alleges that “Doxing can result in loss of jobs, threats to people’s children and families, and even putting ‘bounties’ on their heads.”
No specific evidence was included in the Davila proposal to support those allegations, but it maintained that “People whose names were released are receiving threatening phone calls at work and home, postings and emails.”
The Bay Area chapter of the National Lawyers Guild — which identifies itself as a “progressive and leftist legal organization” that “has represented and defended activists in the courtrooms and on the streets” — says the list of banned items used to justify arrests Aug. 5 was overly broad, and that no charges have resulted from the arrests. The group says all the Aug. 5 arrestees were “anti-racist activists.”
The city has said it cannot confirm this because it does not arrest on the basis of political views or track that information.