Rachel Lederman – 415.350.6496 – firstname.lastname@example.org, Civil Rights Attorney
Berkeley – The City of Berkeley is being served today with a federal civil rights class action lawsuit challenging the Berkeley Police Department’s (BPD) brutality against activists and journalists during a demonstration against the city’s participation in the highly militarized Urban Shield policing program.
This lawsuit comes on the heels of a Monday, July 23rd, 2018, decision when the Berkeley City Council voted to allow BPD to participate in the Urban Shield exercises this year, which are slated to be the last. Mayor Jesse Arreguin was the deciding vote, and chose to turn back on his public promises by not withdrawing the police department from the militarized war games.
The lawsuit concerns a prior City Council meeting at Longfellow Middle School on June 20th, 2017, when hundreds of people turned out to speak against Berkeley’s continued participation in Urban Shield. This 2017 meeting began a year long process which culminated in the Council vote this week.
At the 2017 meeting, when activists peacefully unfurled a banner reading “Stop Urban Shield, End the Militarization of our Communities,” the Berkeley Police immediately responded with aggression and violence, applying unnecessary pain holds and forcefully herding protesters out of the auditorium with baton shoves and blows.
Police hit Plaintiff Brooke Anderson – a photojournalist who presented officers with her press pass – multiple times on her arm, which was already in a visible brace due to a prior injury, and her camera was forcefully shoved into her face. The officers grabbed Plaintiff Dylan Cooke in an excruciating pain hold and arrested her without giving her any chance to leave or comply. Outside the school, when people continued to chant in opposition to the violence of Urban Shield, the police advanced on the crowd aggressively, wielding their batons. Police clubbed Plaintiff Lewis Williams, a 73 year old retired elementary school teacher, on the head, and hit and shoved a number of other protesters, even as the activists showed no threat and attempted to calm the officers.
“I felt this blow on top of my head and then blood came streaming out,” said Williams, a longtime Berkeley resident. “It seemed totally gratuitous that they would hit me like that. I didn’t see it coming. I am positive though that the only weapons or sticks in the vicinity were the batons being forcefully wielded by the police officers right in front of me, including one who had shoved me moments before I was hit on the head.”
During that Council meeting, Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood boasted of how Urban Shield offers valuable training on de-escalation.Yet, just hours later when faced with a nonviolent, peaceful demonstration, police immediately resorted to escalation and violence, causing avoidable injury and chaos.
Advocates with the Stop Urban Shield Coalition cited the police’s violent reaction to peaceful protest as a prime example of how Urban Shield trains police officers. “It’s a sad irony that over 500 community members were present to speak out against the violence and militarization of Urban Shield back in June of 2017, and were then met with that very violence and brutality by police” explained Ellen Brotsky, a Berkeley resident with the Stop Urban Shield Coalition. “The Berkeley Police Department’s escalation and egregious response to peaceful protest should be reason alone for the City of Berkeley to withdraw completely from Urban Shield.”
Only a few months prior to this June 20th incident, BPD agreed to changes in its First Amendment and Use of Force policies and training, as a result of a prior federal civil rights lawsuit and a two year Police Review Commission (PRC) process arising from BPD’s response to Black Lives Matter protesters on December 6, 2014. In that eerily similar incident, a Chronicle photographer and a minister were hit on the heads, protesters were indiscriminately clubbed from behind, and BPD used batons to forcefully herd demonstrators from the campus area all the way across the city border into Oakland. Civil rights attorneys Jim Chanin and Rachel Lederman, who brought the prior lawsuit, contacted Chief Greenwood after the June 20 incident to try to discuss the event, but the Chief never responded.
“It’s very disappointing that the Chief has never really implemented the de-escalation approach that he and the City agreed to. In this incident, BPD fell right back on the same type of needless escalation that failed so miserably before,” said Lederman. “The use of pain without first giving any verbal command or chance to comply; the aggressive use of batons without giving a dispersal order or any attempt to resolve the situation peacefully; are all prohibited by BPD’s own policies.”
The lawsuit seeks an injunction prohibiting BPD from using needless force against protesters and journalists, and monetary compensation for the injuries to the three named Plaintiffs.
Monday’s City Council vote on the Police Department’s participation in the 2018 Urban Shield vendor show and tactical exercises came after more than a year of meetings and research by the Berkeley Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Urban Shield and NCRIC, initiated by the June 20th, 2017 public hearing. With more than 100 community members in the room reminding the Council of the harmful impacts of the militarized, xenophobic and racialized Urban Shield program, Mayor Arreguin was the deciding vote to keep the City’s Police in the program for 2018, despite his repeated public commitments to withdrawing. His changed vote Monday is reminiscent of his similar actions last June that initiated peaceful protest from the crowd.
“Mayor Arreguin has repeatedly broken promises. His vote to support a highly militarized and blatantly racist policing program shows a deep lack of accountability to the commitments he has made to his community and constituents, and utter disregard for the concerns and safety of Berkeley residents who have been injured or lost loved ones at the hands of the Berkeley Police Department,” said Brotsky. “His statement Monday that Berkeley has seen no negative impacts from the Urban Shield program completely undermines community voices and invisibilizes the real and fatal impacts that it has had on Berkeley residents, including the murder of Anita Gay by BPD in 2010.”