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KPFA protester sues city for false arrest

By Jia-Rui Chong, Daily Planet staff
Saturday March 23, 2002

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a videotape is worth $35,000. 

“Not only is it important to document my life and the lives of those around me who don’t get mainstream media coverage, but it’s also for protection,” said Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi, who was the only protester at the KPFA radio lock-out in 1999 to be brought to trial, though 120 were arrested. 

When he won the trial, he sued the city for false arrest. The city recently settled the case for $35,000. 

Jacobs-Fantauzzi said he was unfairly targeted because he is a man of color who identifies as black, Puerto Rican and Jewish. 

“We don’t ‘target’ anybody,” said Lt. Cynthia Harris, spokesperson for the Berkeley Police Department. She denied that the department targeted Jacobs-Fantauzzi during the KPFA protests, while adding that the Berkeley police do not handle university matters. 

“We ‘target’ criminal offenders if you want to use the word target. We certainly don’t ‘target’ people of color,” she said. 

But Jacobs-Fantauzzi carries a camera around with him these days — just in case. 

“Young persons of color getting beaten is not new. But we had a camera [at the KPFA protests], it enabled us to come out successfully,” he said. “People getting beat up in their neighborhoods don’t have videotapes.” 

A Copwatch video camera saved Jacobs-Fantauzzi in his 2000 criminal trial for obstruction of justice. 

He hopes such documentation will save him again in his current suit against the city of San Francisco in the Federal District Court. 

After all, in his last case, video proved that he was not acting aggressively, as the police alleged. 

In the Copwatch video, said Jim Bennett, acting General Manager for KPFA, “he was protesting peacefully and keeping orderly on the street, but was beaten and ended up charged with something he had to go to court to get dismissed.” 

“His court case is significant as an example of how far things had gone awry,” said Bennett, who testified on Jacobs-Fantauzzi’s behalf at the trial. 

“From the video and from the witnesses, the court could see that I was a person of peace, not a violent activist,” said Jacobs-Fantauzzi. He was found not guilty. 

Jacobs-Fantauzzi subsequently signed on Oakland lawyer John Burris, best known for his work in the Rodney King case, and brought a civil suit against the city for unlawful arrest. 

“I think he was singled out because he was the most vocal, the most aggressive and the police were tired of him,” said Burris, who agreed to be paid only if Jacobs-Fantauzzi was awarded money from the trial. 

“$35,000 isn’t a great deal,” said Burris. “But it’s more money than you get in cases where a city doesn’t acknowledge wrong-doing. It’s an acknowledgment they didn’t deal with him properly.” 

Jacobs-Fantauzzi hopes that his case can be a class lesson, since he insists that he is a teacher foremost. 

“People who stand up for justice are always targeted,” said Jacobs-Fantauzzi, who currently teaches at an alternative school in Oakland and is on leave from his teaching position at Juvenile Hall. “Look at Mumia Abu-Jamal. Look at Leonard Pelletier. They were teachers, educators, journalists. Our job is to support our elders in their struggle to be free and not put new political prisoners in jail.” 

He was teaching his students about nonviolent forms of protest when police broke into his San Francisco classroom in Jan. 2000.  

Jacobs-Fantauzzi had organized a Saturday retreat for his students at Balboa High School to talk about what students could do to better their school. He was arrested for trespassing. 

Luckily, his students had already learned some of the lessons he was teaching. One student was taking down badge numbers and another was videotaping the event. Jacobs-Fantauzzi himself was taking pictures. He had also documented talks with the superintendent about the retreat prior to that Saturday. 

Unfortunately, while Jacobs-Fantauzzi was in jail, someone took the videotape his classroom of his arrest. Though he turned over some of the photographs to his lawyer, he lost the negatives when his house in Berkeley burned a month ago. 

But these recent events have not stopped him either. He is still organizing events for urban youth to express their opinions. $5,000 of his settlement money will go to a hip-hop cultural center. He is also trying to create a national hip-hop radio program because, even though he loves KPFA, he felt that some parts of the population do not feel connected to activist radio. 

His passion and honest interest in people have won the respect of his students. David Davila, who was counseled by Jacobs-Fantauzzi while he was a student at Balboa High School and still keeps in touch, called Jacobs-Fantauzzi his mentor. 

It was going on the third time he was kicked out of school when Davila first talked to Jacobs-Fantauzzi, he said.  

“With other teachers, it’s like ‘Yeah, yeah, no one takes you serious,’ but it was different with him,” said Davila. But when Jacobs-Fantauzzi took the time to meet Davila’s family and sat down to break down the situation with his student, Davila listened. 

“He has a whole type of energy that gets you out there trying to do something better and stand up for yourself,” he said. 

Burris said that he believes in Jacobs-Fantauzzi and would not keep fighting for him if he didn’t. 

“He is a young man of enthusiasm and energy. It’s important to have a person with that kind of energy, who stands up for his beliefs. Somebody like that needs to be protected so the system doesn’t run over him.” 

“I do this for lots of young men like that. If everything turns on money, you’d never get your rights protected,” said Burris,