Opinion: When will #BlackLivesMatter in Berkeley?

Honoring Black life requires more than platitudes and passive promises.

“Be respectful”
“Place your hands on the steering wheel, slowly”
“Don’t move around too much”
“Make sure you place your wallet in the cupholder so you don’t have to dig for it”
“We want you to stay alive”

These are the rules for interacting with police officers in Black households. They might as well be a solemn oral tradition in the Black community. I have some traditions of my own. Often, I wear UC Berkeley gear in the hope that it may decrease my chances of police interaction. Back when I used to work at my local courthouse, I would pause an extra 3-5 seconds longer than my peers; just to ensure the sheriff could identify me and clearly see my ID before walking past the security line. I have traditions for almost every moment of my public life. These are the de facto rules that govern our days. These are the rules that so govern Black life in America.

In the wake of Black Americans being killed at the hands of the police, Mayor Jesse Arreguín has written about his “anger.” Andy Greenwood, chief of the Berkeley Police Department, expressed how it was “frustrating” because of how these killings could hurt community trust in police. The Mayor even asks, “When will Black lives Matter?”

This anger and frustration has not been apparent in the city’s recent actions and it appears apathetic when it comes to dismantling the racial rules that govern Black lives.

The BPD has not updated its stop data portal since July 2019, despite a written commitment to update such data roughly every 60 days. In October 2018, Greenwood told the city council that BPD did not have a report on stop data collection because of “challenges beyond our control.”  Over a year later, BPD has taken a step backward and has not even made such data public, despite the fact that its failure occurred several months before the COVID-19 pandemic. This inaction erodes public trust and makes it more challenging to determine what, if any, progress BPD has made in racial equity.

For nearly three months, the city has suspended the Berkeley Police Review Commission (PRC) from conducting normal business. This has halted important work on recommendations on parole and probation searches, a review of BPD’s use of force policy, and made it impossible to hold BPD accountable for the lack of stop data. The PRC, unlike any other city commission, has dedicated staff who have been trained and already have conducted meetings limited to what the city considers “time-sensitive” online. While the city has resumed parking meter fees it refuses to allow the PRC to go forward with its voter-approved duties.

Of course, the work of neutralizing systemic racism in our society is always time-sensitive. Its poisonous effects are real and pervasive. Systemic racism is not beyond our control but is ever-present in our society. A pandemic does not stop it, in fact, it reveals it.  Racism is not something that can be delayed for the next meeting or postponed indefinitely, it is a constant. White supremacy does not shelter in place. Anti-blackness does not take vacations.

In the city of Berkeley, according to the Center for Policing Equity, Black people are 6.5 times more likely to be stopped while driving, 4.5 times more likely to be stopped on foot, and 20 times more likely to be searched, despite being half as likely to be arrested in such encounters. Black people are also nine times more likely to be subjected to police “use of force.” Berkeley, despite its “progressive” sheen,  has as much work to do addressing the plague of racial bias as cities that spend far less time pontificating on their “progressive” values. Currently, the city and the police department are not even doing the bare minimum. There’s an urgency for parking meters, an urgency for increasing police powers, no urgency for Black lives.

The reality is the endemic ills are not real to my community only during the latest publicly known expression of these ills, but they are perpetually real to Black Americans whose work is largely ignored and pleas for change are too often met by an apathetic society. Statements are not enough, referrals are not enough, and conversations are not enough. Honoring Black lives requires tangible actions. We shouldn’t have to plead for the very data that shows the racial disparities we speak of. We should not have to plead for the most basic forms of police oversight. We should not have to plead for the right to walk, or breathe, or live, yet we are still here. I’m tired of the painful oral traditions.


George Floyd                                    Breonna Taylor                         Tony McDade

Say their names — only if you are willing to take direct action. Black Lives Matter, even if they don’t to the city of Berkeley.

Nathan Mizell is the vice-chair of the Berkeley Police Review Commission and the former executive vice president of the Associated Students of the University of California. He is a rising junior at UC Berkeley and writes here as an individual member of the community.