A five-day anti-war camp-out at the downtown Marine Recruiting Station (MRS) aboard a Code Pink truck, designed to draw attention to the March 19 five-year anniversary of the Iraq War, turned nasty Tuesday afternoon: An attorney says the city may be using code enforcement to selectively stifle free speech at the Code Pink protest, and a Code Pink activist says she was assaulted by a city of Berkeley code enforcement supervisor.
The large truck dubbed “Green Zone,” adorned with potted plants and trees, has been parked since Monday in front of the Marine Recruiting Station at 64 Shattuck Square. A half-dozen women are staying in the truck round-the-clock, with others joining them to sing, meet and distribute anti-war literature.
The MRS is guarded by four to six—sometimes more—Berkeley police officers, with the number having been augmented since a bomb blast March 6 at the Time Square recruiting office.
Police are also present to keep sidewalks clear. A March 10 bulletin from the city manager to the City Council says, in part “due to the constricted sidewalks, along this segment of Shattuck Avenue, we are enforcing all laws necessary to keep the sidewalk clear at all times. We will maintain access for pedestrians as well as businesses.”
According to Deputy City Manager Lisa Caronna, who spoke to the Planet on Thursday, Code Pink may place nothing on the sidewalk—“No major pieces of furniture on the sidewalk,” Caronna said. “We’ve been very clear with them. Chairs are not going to be allowed.”
And so, Tuesday afternoon, there were a number of Code Pink activists in and about the truck. As viewed in a police video shared by police with the Planet, there were two bicycles affixed to a telephone pole and a baby stroller next to the truck.
Asher Wolf was sitting in a folding chair on the sidewalk, adjacent to the curb. The video shows that Asher’s knees extending just slightly beyond a parking meter. Wolf is disabled--she is able to stand and walk, but would find it difficult to climb into the truck.
According to City Manager Phil Kamlarz, police called Greg Daniel, a code enforcement supervisor. “Police called him and asked him to enforce laws about placing [objects] on the sidewalk,” Kamlarz told the Planet Tuesday.
In calling in Daniel, “The goal was to avoid confrontation,” Kamlarz said. “They can’t block the sidewalk. It’s a very narrow sidewalk.”
What happened next is in dispute.
The Planet interviewed Code Pink activist Zanne Joi outside the MRS some 45 minutes after the incident. “I heard a guy screaming at [Wolf], who is disabled and [was] in a chair on the edge of the sidewalk,” she said. “He told her she had to get up. She was asking, ‘Who are you?’”
This interaction is not shown on the video.
Wolf got up from the chair. Joi said, “I was reaching to get the chair and [Daniel] pushed me over.” Joi then fell into the street. “He was yelling—I expected police to do something,” she said. “It was shocking,” Joi said, noting that Daniel wore no city badge or form of identification.
Caronna said she reviewed the police tape of the incident, in which physical contact between Daniel and Joi would have been obscured. The officer was filming from behind bystanders.
“Everyone was in tight quarters,” Caronna said. “Whether there was contact or not, it is unfortunate that Zanne fell down. It was not intentional … People got tangled up. It was an unintentional bump. I don’t see an intentional act to hurt anybody. It was not done in anger.”
Daniel was at work on Thursday, according to Caronna. “We think he acted professionally,” Caronna said.
In a phone interview Thursday, Joi said she plans to file assault charges against Daniel next week, after the five-day protest. She said if the contact between herself and the code inspector, a large man of more than six feet, was in fact inadvertent, the inspector would have reacted apologetically or offered assistance, which was not the case.
Joi, who had not seen the video, said that she expected that it would have shown Daniel screaming at the women; however, sound from the street is not available in the early part of the two-minute 11-second video.
The video is shot in several segments. Caronna said nothing was erased. One does not see the approach of the inspector. One does see him speaking to a group of Code Pink supporters, then moving into a tight space, where he bends forward. For an instant, one glimpses a flash of pink as Joi, mostly obscured, falls. The contact between the two is obscured.
Reached Thursday by telephone, Attorney Osha Neumann said he was concerned that the city was trying to enforce statutes that did not exist. “I don’t believe there is any violation of any city ordinance with a disabled woman sitting off to the side” of the sidewalk, he said. “I don’t think there was any cause at all to take her chair.”
“I’m concerned about this pattern of very strict enforcement, going out of the way to hinder a protest,” Neumann said, adding that he thinks the enforcement stems from the city’s fear of getting bad press around the Marine recruiting station issues.
It could be “selective enforcement to discourage protest,” Neumann said.