Berkeley woke up to the demand for the Mayor and the City Council to represent the people of Berkeley, and not shrink in fear and place the police on the streets of legitimate protests. The people reminded these elected officials that Berkeley is the home of free speech. The spirit of free speech movement and revolution in the 1960’s on the streets of Berkeley are awake again. Still as we all sat in our homes hearing the two helicopters that were following the protests and demonstrations drone on till late into the night, or we took a stand and marched with them down Shattuck Avenue or Telegraph Avenue: neighbors stood and watched on the streets. The community itself was very quiet observing from a distance, but compelled by the insistent urgency and alarm an overhead helicopter conveys. Truly it did feel like a war zone for four or five nights in a row. Not from the demonstrators, but from the imposing helicopters that seemed to be wanting to intimidate the marchers and maybe keep the people in their homes. Still there has not been a city wide response.
However, activists, university students, and many of the people of Berkeley marched in one of the six nights of the Michael Brown protests. A significant group of more than 200 people confronted the Berkeley City Council and the police in a heated meeting on February 10th. Thirty plus individuals expressed the insult of the City of Berkeley not having the interest of the people in their response to the protests, particularly December 6th. They wanted to remind the council and the mayor that the voters elected them to consider the needs and dignity of their citizenry, and lead- not follow- the police whose hostile and military stance was far from that. Many of the police were called in from other towns, the Sherif’s office and presented unprovoked aggression toward the marchers
That meeting at Ed Roberts on February 10th produced some policy decisions and the Black Lives Forum of February 21st was to take the decisions to action in the community.
If Not Berkeley, Where? describes the meeting of February 10th. The right to protest, the protection of the right to protest and the critical issue of race based inequities resulted in the City Council of Berkeley and the Police Review Commission producing the structure of the changes in response to that meeting. The Black Lives Matter Forum on February 21st in Berkeley took a deeper look to implementing and taking action in the conditions of injustice and inequity in housing, education, medical care that shows up in the police shootings of young black men. The Berkeley mayor, the Berkeley City Council and police were confronted with the fact that young black men specifically are at risk in FErguson, Jacksonville, Oakland and yes, even in Berkeley. The irony that the Free Speech movement in Berkeley in the 1960’s led the country, but the response to the marches after Michael Brown resulted in the aggressive unprovoked attacks on peaceful demonstrators was not to be dismissed. December 6th, 2014 University students, townspeople and activists marched for Michael Brown, in what could easily be seen as a science fiction movie. Helicopters for hours and hours zoning in and around the streets, police in masks with armor and guns standing, and then attacking students. No more tolerance for this contradiction, the voters of Berkeley demanded and got the Mayor and City Council to form and act on those new proposals.
But the Black Lives Matter Forum was to go deeper into the root cause of the conditions that allow the killing of young black men and other men of color. We were there to cement and implement the agreements produced from the February 10th Meeting. Neither the Mayor Tom Bates, the Berkeley City Counsel nor police were represented in this meeting. But a panel was made up of representatives for the Berkeley Citizens Action Committee, the Berkeley Citizens Action, the Berkeley NAACP and the Berkeley Peace and Justice Committee, and Black Lives Matter together with Max Anderson as moderator brought the issues of Ferguson and our country to task.. The conditions to inequity in education, housing, mental health, crib to prison stacked deck that generate racial response was the depth of response this meeting met solid ground in this gathering.
Demilitarization of local law enforcement, repurposing of enforcement funds to support community based alternative to incarceration, discipline and community based review of police activities with information accessible to the public, ending racial profiling by the passage of the End Racial Profiling Act, with a request to have the Obama Administration develop a National Plan of Action for Racial Justice. As well, an independent Investigation of police responses to the December 6th Protests with the Police Review Commission (citizens of Berkeley) given access and jurisdiction and the power to recommend address to incidents. No tear gas, no over the shoulder baton strikes at crowds, no projectiles directed toward crowds; and a six month plan to implement cameras worn on police and their vehicles when on duty.
The issues of the need for reform addressed by the February 24th Black Lives Matter Forum going to the cause and conditions that limit social justice and equity to black and latino population were drawn out at the meeting. In Berkeley as in San Francisco and Oakland, real estate costs and therefore rental costs are rising at such a rate due to the Tech Industry Boom that there is a closing down of housing options for many black and latino families. There has been a significant drop in the number of black and latino students in high school. The disparity in educational resources is considered by many to be the condition that recycles the conditions of poverty. By the third grade, the line is drawn: students are left behind and do not get the recognition and help they need to catch up. It was reported at this meeting that 40% of children born in poverty remain in poverty. High school and two years of community college has a significant increase in income, but getting to and thru high school is the main threshold. Better teachers, better schools and specific training of teachers to be aware of the cost of expelling students can not be overstated. One survey said in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2014 stated that as little as two suspensions has the consequence of students dropping out before completion of high school. Training teachers to discern inappropriate behavior and authentic responses of defiance and anger for young black men in particular are what is required. The pipeline to prison begins often when children are not diagnosed or misdiagnosed dealing with traumatic experiences and mental illness in the family, generation after generation.
It was noted that the BErkeley School district has one of the largest achievement gaps between Black and Brown students compared to white students in the state. Berkeley’s African American/Black population has declined from 30% of the city’s population to less than 8%, as the real estate boom and high cost of housing in Berkeley are closing down options for owning or renting in Berkeley. The need for an increase in Mental Health Services to be given the priority that would take the services to the people of low income in South and West Berkeley cannot be overstated. Also the Berkeley NAACP recommends creating City Council Oversight Body to monitor unfair hiring, promotional practices, cronyism and unfair treatment of city employees.
The room of activists, mostly white and many seniors have long standing commitment to the values of civil rights as evidenced by the many white haired seniors that came early, stayed late and will not be letting Berkeley forget the commitments of the 1970’s that are a presence in the room. Remember Ferguson! Remember democracy is a messy business-complex, and disturbing. These are the leaders of the citizenry who refuse to tolerate the conditions that limit social justice and equity. They are used to the hard work of taking unpopular stands, showing up for protests and having the results from public outcry and demand for change in policy and practices. If not in Berkeley-?Well, it will be Berkeley that light is shed on all the places where race excludes. Demands will not be forgotten. New practices will be required and follow through will be essential. Berkeley leads. Always been that way. Always will be. STay tuned…