Friday, March 14, 2008

Protesters vs. Berkeley Cops

By Anneli Star Josselin Rufus
Fri, Mar 14, 2008 at 11:59 AM

Antiwar protesters lambasted the Berkeley Police Department — accusing officers of knocking them down and stomping them, among other things — at last night's Berkeley Police Review Commission meeting to review a petition regarding police crowd control tactics allegedly used last month on said protesters outside the downtown U.S. Marine Corps recruitment office. Representatives from World Can't Wait, Code Pink, and Berkeley Copwatch talked and showed video clips of demonstrations. The BPD went unrepresented. Commissioner Victoria Urbi announced that she had sent the police chief an invitation on Monday, but that given the short notice he had declared himself unable to attend. It was unclear whether other officers had been invited or, for that matter, informed of the meeting.

Can you say "kangaroo court"?

A series of protesters took the mic. One lamented "belligerent riot squads who use batons and arrests ... to silence political speech." Another claimed that "the Berkeley Police Department has committed acts of violence that ... create a climate of fear." Another described "a very marked escalation of hostility and physical violence on the part of the Berkeley Police Department" against people protesting "this disastrous, immoral, criminal war."

A Code Pink member described her group as "risking our lives" by protesting, because "there are people willing to kill to get what they want."

Another claimed that the cops have done "everything they could to facilitate a right-wing hatefest."

In tears, one man said that as he carried a World Can't Wait sign at the February 12 rally in Civic Center Park, "the police ... shoved me into the mud. One of the cops took my sign and stomped it into several pieces, inches from my head. ... They stomped me hard in the chest," he claimed amid gasps from the audience, which applauded after he described an emergency-room visit and a chest-wall-contusion diagnosis.

"I wear pink. I'm passive," said one slender woman who described feeling menaced.

"The police allowed big Marines to climb right over us," another said.

The video clips showed rows of police on Shattuck Square near the recruiting station and at the corner of Center and Shattuck across from the BART station on February 22, clutching batons amid a crowd of bandanna-masked protesters screaming over and over in unison, "This is what a police state looks like!"

In an email sent the day after that protest, BPD public-information officer Sergeant Mary Kusmiss gave this description:

"At approximately 4:05 pm or so the group of 25 protesters who had been protesting in front tof the Marine recruiting Center decided to go mobile and march in the downtown area, presumably to gather some momentum. A couple members of the march group had bullhorns, a violation of the conditions of the special permit issued by the City of Berkeley. Two bicycle officers followed the march crowd to ensure public safety. A decision was made at about 4:11pm to detain and cite a primary instigator with a bullhorn. ... The male protester refused to comply, pulling away from the officer. The crowd then surged and encircled the two bike officers and closed in on them. Some of the crowd were kicking them and their patrol bikes. The officers called for Code 3 cover, emergency assistance and approximately 20 officers responded from around the city. The officers made a safety/skirmish line to hold the crowdback. The crowd was pushing, yelling, and shoving. Some force was used to control/manage the crowd. The concern was that the crowd was attempting to incite a riot, [free] their friends from police custody, injure officers, and become a threat to public safety. Another male protester tried to force his way through the skirmish line a couple times and was eventually arrested. ... Minor injuries to a few officers. ... No reports to us as of yet of any protester injuries."

At the meeting, the presence of Berkeley High School students among the protesters was much praised.

Interviewed yesterday, Berkeley Unified School District spokesman Mark Coplan voiced a different take on this. He has nothing against antiwar protests in general and attends them often, but he says World Can't Wait "just want to create disruption, to incite some type of negative response from police officers or other authorities." He says World Can't Wait regularly tries to make inroads at BHS, but are prohibited because "we will never be able to work with a group that encourages kids to walk out of classes."

World Can't Wait, Coplan says, actively advocates truancy among kids who are "fourteen, fifteen - literally babies," by giving them free logo shirts and bandannas and "getting them to hang out [at protests] all day. World Can't Wait thrives on those young kids, whom they use, telling them to line up against the cops, telling them, ‘The cops can't make you move. You have rights.'"

At the February 12 rally, Coplan watched kids standing on the frontlines while "the World Can't Wait folks were reaching out between them and poking the cops. The police had kids screaming at them with adults behind them encouraging them. I told the kids, ‘The Berkeley police are not your enemies. When they tell you to move back, you have to or you'll be arrested.' I yelled at a couple of kids, ‘What you're doing is outrageous.'... I felt tortured watching what those officers went through that day."

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