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Police Review Commission Plans Crowd Control Review

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday March 18, 2008
World War II vet Selwyn Jones, 86, speaks at the hearing on police response to demonstrations. Jones said police pushed him to the ground.
Judith Scherr
World War II vet Selwyn Jones, 86, speaks at the hearing on police response to demonstrations. Jones said police pushed him to the ground.

World War II veteran Selwyn Jones, 86, told the Police Review Commission at Thursday’s public hearing on the Berkeley Police Department’s response to recent demonstrations that he’d been pushed to the ground by police during a recent protest at the Marine Recruiting Station.  

Ry Cranor-Wellwood said he’d been stomped on by police at the Feb. 12 demonstration at Civic Center Park and brought along emergency room papers he said verified his injuries. 

After video documentation and oral testimony from about 30 people claiming faulty crowd control by Berkeley police during recent anti-war and anti-Marine recruitment demonstrations—one person blamed demonstrators for the problems—the Police Review Commission voted to review police policies on crowd control.  

A subcommittee will be appointed to determine if police are following crowd control procedures now in place and whether the procedures need revision. The commission may decide later to look at officer misconduct. If they do, they said they will not be able to hold hearings publicly, given a California Supreme Court decision and a pending court case involving the Berkeley Police Association that bans public discussion of complaints against specific police officers. 

And, responding to the crowd of about 60 people, many calling for immediate action, the commission promised to hold an emergency meeting with the city manager and police chief to discuss crowd control methods before demonstrations slated for Wednesday, the five-year anniversary of the war in Iraq. That meeting was slated for 4 p.m. Monday. 

Speakers told the PRC that police overreacted to peaceful demonstrations. They showed videotapes of dozens of police officers marching in formation along Shattuck Avenue, apparently pushing Jones off the sidewalk into the street and knocking over stands the demonstrators had set up on the sidewalk. Speakers said their crimes were scotch-taping signs to the Marine Recruiting Station windows and walking with picket signs on sidewalks without permits to demonstrate. 

“Over and over, the police set up awkward situations,” said Don Spark, of the World Can’t Wait. Moreover, police arrested the anti-recruiting young people “and gave the bigots a pass,” he said. 

Police did not attend the meeting. Police Spokesperson Lt. Andy Greenwood told the Planet on Monday he understood the PRC was going to establish a subcommittee to look into issues of crowd control and that the chief would cooperate with the committee.  

“The police department works very hard to insure the rights of everyone during a demonstration,” Greenwood said, noting that he could not address specific allegations. He cautioned, however, that one should beware of video footage that could be edited to remove the context of an event. 

Former U.S. Army Capt. Marca Lamore, a Berkeley resident, was alone at the hearing speaking in defense of police actions. “People were waving signs—they are potential weapons,” she said, adding, “Citizens are harassed by Code Pink.”  

Zanne Joi of Code Pink said protesters were treated differently from the Marines. While demonstrators had been cited for smoking near businesses, “a Marine came out of the office smoking and police said nothing,” Joi said. 

Army veteran Forrest Schmidt, a member of ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) said police treated the Marines and the pro-military demonstrators as “comrades.”  

“Police act as an auxiliary of the pro-war forces,” he said. 

Speakers complained that “rules” enforced were arbitrary and possibly fabricated. Joi said Code Pink was told it could not have a “honk for peace” sign. 

“We don’t know where these rules are coming from,” she said. 

“We’re looking at the general erosion of civil liberties,” said Michael Diehl, a member of the mental health commission who has been trying to get police officers to get crisis intervention training. 

Several speakers pointed to a lack of communication between protesters and police. Some said police failed to give warnings or orders to disperse before physically moving crowds with batons. One video showed protesters unsure of where police wanted them to go.  

Speakers said the number of police officers was excessive for a peaceful demonstration and police demeanor and riot gear portrayed an overreaction. “There’s never been an allegation of violence [committed] by World Can’t Wait,” one speaker said. 

“We are a peaceful group. We aren’t going to break anything,” said Cynthia Papermaster of Code Pink. 

PRC commissioners agreed there were serious problems. “I did see a marked change in crowd control,” said PRC Chair Bill White. “It’s a concern of mine.” 

Commissioner Jonathan Huang said the events described by speakers were not “isolated incidents.” Huang said he was concerned about the “culture of the police department.” 

“Some officers need to be retrained,” added PRC Vice-Chair Sharon Kidd, echoing another concern that had been raised by several speakers. 

Commissioner Michael Sherman noted that, with numerous retirements on the police force, there are many new officers in the city. Like Kidd, he said he wanted to know how police are being trained in crowd control. 

He further noted that the Crowd Management Team manual says nothing about giving verbal warnings, before pushing people out of the way.  

“Why are World War II vets being shoved in the street?” he asked.