December 2014 Newsletter
Let me take a moment to update you regarding the recent protests in Berkeley and some issues surrounding them.
First and foremost, it is important to remind ourselves that black lives matter and that we must end the killing of unarmed black men by police. But we must also address the systemic inequities that exist throughout society.
The killing of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Travyon Martin and countless other black men is sadly not an isolated incident and something that happens too frequently in our country. Every 28 hours a black man, woman or child is killed at the hands of law enforcement. It’s sad to realize that in 2014, racial discrimination is still prevalent. The Black Lives Matter campaign has raised national consciousness of this problem and is inspiring. While protests help raise awareness and organize support, we need to shift our focus now towards advocating for solutions to achieve productive and meaningful change.
Most people in Berkeley support the overall goals of the protests. Unfortunately a small group of largely masked provocateurs have hijacked these protests to commit acts of violence and destruction. This has negatively impacted residents and businesses and that is why I have been monitoring the protests and working with stakeholders to ensure that while the right to protest is respected, that the protests are peaceful, and violence and vandalism is not tolerated.
As a City, we must be thoughtful in helping that transition along. Rather than inflame things , we should inspire by listening and showing our solidarity in making change at all levels.
Unfortunately, Berkeley City Council had the opportunity this week to address critical issues relating to the protests, but instead irresponsibly prolonged things until January 17th, the first opportunity to officially discuss any of the issues at a Council meeting. It was failed leadership to choose NOT to allay tensions and to discuss how we, together as a community, can move on to the next phase of positive change. The inactions of the Council, many of whom have been largely silent, risks continuing more protests that can get out of hand by those who feel we are doing nothing.
I will continue to monitor the protests, encourage non-violence and a speedy transition, and respond to the needs and concerns of neighbors and local businesses.
Please find the following topics below:
· Balancing Free Speech and Public Safety (KPIX interview)
· January 17th Special City Council Meeting
· Police Staging at McKinley Avenue
· Helicopter Noise
· Local Business Impacts
· On-Body Police Cameras
· Police Use of Tear Gas and Non-Lethal Projectiles
As always, do not hesitate to contact me if I can help in any way. Happiest of holidays to you and your family and best wishes for the New Year.
Berkeley City Councilmember, District 4
Balancing Free Speech and Public Safety
Last Sunday, I was invited on the KPIX Morning News to speak with political columnist Phil Matier about the protests in Berkeley It was a very fruitful discussion that explored the boundaries between protecting important First Amendment rights and the proper police response to prevent the vandalism and violence by a few provocateurs.
You can watch the entire interview here:
January 17th Special City Council meeting
The City Council will hold a special town hall meeting on Saturday, Jan. 17, at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley to address the issues that underlie the recent protests in Berkeley and the tragic events in Ferguson and Staten Island.
The meeting will include a panel of community leaders and experts in relevant fields to seek a deeper understanding of the core issues and possible ways to address them. The time and other details will be announced soon.
Police Staging on McKinley Avenue
Throughout the protests these past few weeks, Berkeley Police without prior notice to my office or to neighbors have cordoned off access to McKinley Avenue near the police station in order to create a staging area. Residents have contacted my office with complaints about not only closing off vehicular access but police practicing crowd control tactics at early hours. This has greatly inconvenienced residents to be able to freely come and go in their own neighborhood, and many cars have been towed.
When I first heard about the situation, I made it clear that going forward that we need better communication with residents in advance and we need to work with neighbors to come up with measures to reduce the impacts that turning a residential street into a police staging area will inevitably create. to the complaints made to the City and outreach to BPD, there is now dialogue between the police and neighbors and that we can prevent this kind of situation from happening in the future through better notification and protocols.
The issue is expected to come before the Police Review Commission and new protocols will be developed –your input is important and I will keep you updated when the commission is scheduled to do take up the matter.
If you were inconvenienced with any parking citations, towing due to the staging, or any other impacts, please contact my office and we’ll be happy to do what we can –you shouldn’t be penalized for something beyond your control.
Every time there is a major protest in Berkeley, you hear the incessant sound of helicopters hovering overhead. While news helicopters have a First Amendment right to cover the news, hovering over an area for hours on end creates significant impacts for neighbors. I have frequently received complaints about helicopter noise and demands for the City to do something about it.
It may surprise you that the City of Berkeley has no jurisdiction over its own airspace – air flight is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Given that we no legal means to regulate helicopter flight and to mitigate noise through regulations on time, place and altitude, I have been working to lobby news organizations and law enforcement to limit their use of helicopters over Berkeley. The City of Berkeley has a policy where our police do not own or cannot use a helicopter except for very limited circumstances. The helicopters you likely hear are from another law enforcement agency or from TV stations.
In 2011 I introduced a City Council item to contact news media outlets to raise the issue of helicopter noise impacts and request that they employ tactics to reduce noise from helicopter flight such as pooling helicopters, flying at higher altitudes and reducing the amount of time hovering over a location.
You can view the Council item and letter here: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/uploadedFiles/Clerk/Level_3_-_City_Council/2011/12Dec/2011-12-06_Item_27_News_Helicopter_Noise_Impacts.pdf
Given the impacts that helicopter noise has on Central Berkeley and other neighborhoods, and my desire to address this issue, I have been appointed to the Oakland Airport-Community Noise Forum and have successfully included helicopter noise impacts in the Forum work plan, helped achieve a meeting between helicopter operators and Oakland Airport over noise impacts, and I am advocating for FAA and Congress to pass legislation to reduce helicopter noise impacts.
If you have a complaint about helicopter noise, I encourage you to contact Oakland Airport Noise Management Program at (510) 563-6463 or at http://flyquietoak.com/pages/file_noise_complaint.html
Local Business Impacts
It’s unfortunate that while the vast majority of the protesters have been peaceful, marches have been marred by an opportunistic minority interested more in mayhem than the message. I commend many of the courageous protesters who have risked their own safety to try to stop the vandalism.
As you may have heard, various local businesses were vandalized the night after the Police used tear-gas and non-lethal projectiles on a largely peaceful crowd. I understand that our officers walk a fine -if not an often confusing-line and while I appreciate that our officers are head and shoulders above any other city, they followed the over response of the first evening with too little of a response, allowing the mass vandalism and looting to occur. The result was businesses such as the Missing Link Bicycle Co-op having their windows broken, or worse.
However, I am heartened to have learned that it could have been worse and that many protesters immediately put their bodies in front of Missing Link and prevented any looting. Since December 7th, I have been checking in with various businesses to see how they are doing and how I can help. I want to take a moment and commend the Downtown Business Association and our Economic Development Office who have been extremely helpful working with impacted local businesses during this difficult time, and providing alerts to help businesses prepare for forthcoming protest marches.
I will continue to check in with local businesses who have helped make our Downtown vibrant. In the meantime, please support your local small businesses this holiday season and remember to Buy Local! Visitwww.buylocalberkeley.orgfor a directory of local businesses.
On-Body Police Cameras
Stemming from the search for solutions after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the issue of on-body police cameras has received attention, including from President Obama who proposed funding for local law enforcement agencies to purchase cameras. While cameras are not a solution to police misconduct, they can provide an objective visual account of incidents when turned on, helping to restore trust through accountability. Oakland has seen a decrease in officer misconduct cases since the introduction of cameras a few years ago. Though these cameras will not be an end-all solution (Eric Garner’s case was entirely filmed), there are an important first step.
Even before the events in Ferguson and NY, I led the charge for the Berkeley Police Department to use on body cameras. The Police Commission and city staff are exploring the use of on-body cameras and I expect sometime next year that the Council will authorize the purchase of cameras. You can read my proposal on on-body police cameras here: http://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/City_Council/2014/03_Mar/Documents/2014-03-25_Item_30_Wearable_Video_Cameras.aspx
Police Use of Tear Gas and Non-Lethal Projectiles
Berkeley is the home the Free Speech Movement. To be clear, though, free speech does not protect violence and I support our officers stepping in to stop those who would detract from an important message to sow destruction. However, I am taken aback on December 6th, the first evening of demonstrations, when the police responded by using tear gas, fencing in those trying to flee and using non-lethal munitions.
While I understand some residents may feel that the police had to do what was necessary, it is important to understand that the tear gas did not just impact those participating in the demonstration, but innocent bystanders returning home from studying (as was the case with one of my interns) or even residents in their own homes when the smoke seeped in.
In response, I intend to seek an investigation at the next Council meeting to get a full account of the events so that we may learned what went right, what went wrong, and how we can do better. We need to evaluate when and how we deploy tear gas given its potential to affect those who are not the target, as well as the practice of “kettling” when police herd the crowd only to fire more projectiles at those trying to disperse. I personally think we need to prohibit the use of tear gas in demonstrations and look at the use of other non-lethal munitions as a crowd control strategy. Oakland in the wake of the Occupy protests revised its crowd control policies and polices on use of tear gas and other non lethal projectiles. Given the events of these past few weeks, and the likelihood of future demonstrations, it’s important that we reflect on what has happened and revise our policies. To be clear once again, I am not interested in demonizing our officers, some of whom sustained injuries in the protests, but rather to see how we can better protect both the public AND our officers.