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Remembering Kevin Lee Freeman

Friday May 23, 2003

We were walking in opposite directions on University Avenue in mid-April, and we started grinning as soon as we saw each other, part of Berkeley’s family of mutual notoriety. 

“Spare change for old times’ sake,” he said, and I gave him the five in my pocket. “How come they haven’t killed you yet?” he joked, and I told him I should ask him the same thing. “Oh, we got it lined up now,” he said, “we’re all set now.” He went on that way for a bit, and whatever he meant, it seemed positive, and it seemed to include me. I told him to take care, and we parted. 

Kevin Freeman wasn’t crazy, and he wasn’t drunk. Whatever may or may not have happened on April 22, the police and the courts had already decided that he shouldn’t be allowed in the area south of campus, the one place he could count on finding friends, inexpensive or free food, and access to services.  

It’s a common routine, making part of the town off-limits to people the police and the courts have decided are “problematic.” With a few repeated arrests, any prosecutor can point to a “record,” argue for a stay-away order and usually get one. 

Massive amounts of these stay-away orders were issued against protesters in 1991 in an effort to reduce attendance at demonstrations. I was the only SLAPP-suit defendant found in violation of an injunction the courts issued against four alleged “key leaders” of those demonstrations, and, although I was a civil prisoner, I was put into the general population in Santa Rita in violation of the law. 

The Berkeley Police have their own public relations department, unlike the rest of us. Because of its affinity for eccentricity and love of the nut-brown bowl, most of Berkeley’s population teeters on the edge of sanity and sobriety from time to time. If one has a home to hide in, one doesn’t risk getting the treatment Kevin Freeman got; typed, ticketed and tossed into a cell with someone violent enough to kill him. 

Kevin Freeman was your brother; not the one that went to Harvard, the other one, maybe without the loving wife and happy family and good job. We now have no chance to know what he had all lined up, whatever it was he was so cheerful about the day we passed each other. But his story should at least illuminate the danger of the seemingly benign stay-away order, which criminalizes simply being in a part of town where others are free to congregate. 

The University of California, the police and the courts constantly conspire to relocate the “problematic” people who frequent the area south of campus, the people with the wrong clothes, the wrong demeanor and the wrong politics. It’s not happening in some dark room off the record, it’s happening in broad daylight with almost all of our permission. It’s business as usual, and for once, for a brief moment, Kevin Lee Freeman has shown us how much it costs. 

Carol Denney is a Berkeley resident.