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Rally protests police abuse nationwide

By Laurel Rosen Special to the Daily Planet
Friday October 20, 2000

Early one morning in May, Leo Stegman, an AmeriCorps volunteer, was resting on a bench in Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Park. He was waiting for a nearby agency that serves low income and homeless people to open up so that he could distribute fliers about a job training program. 

Stegman never made it to the office. Minutes before it opened, he was arrested by Berkeley police.  

An officer “came up to me and he said ‘No sleeping in the park,’” said Stegman. “He asked me my name and I said, ‘For what? Am I being detained or arrested?’ He said ‘I want to know.’” 

But Stegman knew his rights. “Since I’m a paralegal and I have some understanding of the law, I said ‘I don’t have anything to say to you, we have nothing to talk about,’” Stegman said. The officer continued to question Stegman, insisting that he tell him his name. Then he arrested Stegman for resisting, delaying or obstructing a police officer in the official performance of his duty. 

Stegman, who is black, thinks he was a victim of racial profiling. “You catch a lot of African-American men being stopped under very tenuous circumstances,” he said. “If you fail the attitude test, the incident escalates.” Stegman calls his case of injustice merely an “inconvenience.” He said that many incidents with police quickly turn from verbal harassment to physical assault. 

Berkeley police did not return calls for comment. 

This Sunday, Stegman will join thousands of people at a protest against police abuse. The march and rally will take place in San Francisco’s Mission district. For the fifth year in a row, October 22 is the national day of protest “to stop police brutality, repression, and the criminalization of a generation.” 

Trac Brennan, of the October 22 Coalition, said the day has become a rallying point for addressing injustice in law enforcement. “It’s a powerful day of expression of people’s outrage,” she said. “We want to see change.” Brennan sees police brutality as a unifying issue. “This is one of the many types of injustice in the country, but it’s one that can bring together people of different political persuasions,” she said. “Anyone who stands up against any type of repression is going to encounter police brutality sooner or later.” 

Though the number of people killed by Berkeley police is relatively low, lawyers, activists and victims of police abuse maintain that Berkeley police engage in excessive force and racial profiling.  

John Burris is an Oakland lawyer who represents victims of police abuse. He has handled many cases against the Berkeley Police Department. Burris said that people of color are overwhelmingly targeted by police. “It’s always been a feeling in the African-American community that police have treated them in a discriminatory fashion,” he said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t get a call from someone who’s been brutalized by police. The problem is widespread wherever there are officers policing African-American or Hispanic communities.” 

Danielle Storer, of Berkeley CopWatch, said that communities need to make police accountable for their actions. “It’s really a vital issue for security and democracy,” she said. “Police (should be) controlled by elected officials and not by themselves.” 

Barbara Attard, an officer at the Berkeley Police Review Commission – a city agency that investigates complaints of police abuse – said that Berkeley’s police department is less abusive than those in other Bay Area cities such as Oakland and San Francisco. 

“The fact that there was just one officer-involved shooting in nine years is significant. The numbers (in Berkeley) are low, even for general use of force,” she said. 

Attard said the Berkeley Police Review Commission receives about 50 complaints a year for its 200 officers, while San Francisco averages about 1,000 complaints a year and has about 2,000 officers.  

Attard also said that the number of cases that go to the Berkeley Police Review Commission is only half of the total number of complaints filed with the internal affairs office. In 1999 Berkeley’s internal affairs office received 117 complaints of police abuse.  

Formed in 1973, Berkeley’s Police Review Commission is the oldest civilian oversight committee in the United States. Attard said that most of the cases the commission receives now are complaints of racial profiling. Attard calls the Berkeley review process “very important.”  

She said, “This is the one place where anyone from the public can observe, the one place where complainants can question the officer involved.” 

Brennan of the Oct. 22 Coalition said the resident review boards are not an effective way to curb police abuse. “My experience is that they serve as a rubber stamp for police brutality,” she said. “It channels anger but fundamentally won’t change anything because they don’t have hiring and firing power.” 

Storer said review boards need to be well funded.  

“When the police department budget increases, so should the civilian review board’s. If they’re getting more cops, we should get more investigators,” she said. 

Storer also maintains that each person in a community can help curb police violence. “Everyone should stop and watch when they see the police. If everyone is involved and everyone is a witness, that will be a deterrent to police abuse,” she said. 

Burris said the only way to combat police abuse is to create a system of discipline. “Officers need to be held accountable for their misconduct and be effectively and efficiently punished,” he said. 



· Sunday October 22nd: National Day of Protest 

· Events in San Francisco: 

· 11 am protest at 24th and Mission 

· noon march 

· 1-5 pm rally at Dolores Park, with speeches by 

victims of police brutality and family members of 

those who have been killed by police. Also, theatrical 

and musical performances. 

· Wear black.  

· More information: 415-864-5153 or 510-464-4563