Public Comment

Commentary: Police Display Unnecessary Violence

By Jaime Reyes
Friday November 17, 2006

On Monday, Nov. 6, I witnessed an encounter between a Berkeley policeman and two women that culminated in what I considered unnecessary and brutal violence. This encounter demonstrated very rapidly how the thin veneer of civilized behavior that we are all so dependent on can disappear so quickly, that we are left with a sense of helplessness and impotence. 

I was parking my car on Addison, at the corner with Martin Luther King, when I saw two women crossing Martin Luther King using the crosswalk. I noticed them because one of them, the younger one, was obviously concerned with her safety and at one point made a motion with her hands as if asking a car to stop before running them over. Suddenly a police car appeared and a police officer stopped the two women, asked for their identification and started writing them a ticket. As I did not see them do anything illegal, I was intrigued by this and stayed in my car observing the interaction. The younger woman very quickly became agitated. In a loud voice and using somewhat vulgar language, she asked several times why she was getting a ticket for just crossing the street. The other woman attempted to calm her down several times and also talked to the officer. I could not hear what she and the officer talked about. I did notice that the younger woman became more and more agitated as the cop continued writing the tickets. Suddenly, the younger woman screamed that she needed her ID back as she needed to go. The police officer approached her, threw her to the ground face down, slammed his knee on her back or neck and appeared to be out of control, yelling at the other woman to stay away as he jammed the younger woman forcefully on the cement. I would not be surprised if the young woman suffered some serious injury as a consequence of being treated so roughly. I will never forget this scene. Fortunately, shortly after, about five or six other police officers came running out of the station, took over the situation, and took the women away. Had they not appeared, I am afraid the woman would have continued being treated very roughly. Why did this policeman wait to call for assistance until after he completely lost his temper? 

I wonder what happened to these two women. Were they arrested? How much time did they spend in jail? Will the police report charge the woman with assault when all she did was become agitated and run off the mouth? Was her companion, who was trying to calm the situation, also charged? Will the police officer be charged with assault? 

A woman who was across the street yelled at the policeman saying that this was “totally unnecessary.” I did not know what to do so I stood there for a while and left with the feeling that I had seen a nightmare in real life. None of the policemen approached any of the potential witness to ask us what we had seen. I was afraid to approach them fearing for my own safety. Do policemen only talk to each other when one of them is involved in a violent situation? 

The next day I sent an e-mail to the police department describing what I had seen. No one has responded to me. I called the Berkeley Police Review Commission, and was told that because I had not been a victim of police action, I could not file a complaint or report the incident. They would not even take my name as a potential witness in case the women approached them with a complaint. They told me the women would contact me if they needed a witness. When I explained that neither of the women would even know I had witnessed the incident, they did not have any other suggestions. So I am writing to you hoping that if necessary, someone will contact me. 


Jaime Reyes is a Berkeley resident.