I am writing to individual city council members in hopes that I can resolve this issue. I plan to go to Berkeley Police Review Commission and file a formal complaint about this unjust harassment and political persecution at the hands of the Berkeley Police Department, more specifically Officer O’ Donnell.
First, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Joseph Buddenberg and I currently reside in Oakland. I am a political activist in various causes; most notably my animal rights activism seems to be a thorn in the side of the UC police department as well as BPD. I have participated in and been filmed by UCPD/BPD at various legal residential demonstrations organized by the members of Stop Cal Vivisection, who are dedicated to ending the use of live animals in research at the University of California, Berkeley.
(You can check out their website at www.pixelexdesign.com/stopcalvivisection if you have not heard of the campaign.)
On the afternoon of Saturday, July 5, I was on a bike ride alone down San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley.
A BPD cop apparently spotted me. She pulled a U-turn. I sat down at a bus stop and she stared at me the entire time. She got on her radio and soon after a second BPD officer arrived. I felt intimidated and they didn’t appear to want to detain me so I walked my bike across the street and went inside Walgreen’s to get a drink of water. I exited the store a few minutes later and the two officers were in the parking lot waiting for me.
I smiled and waved at both cops in an attempt to show that I had nothing to hide and would not resist them in any fashion. They still didn’t make any effort to approach or detain me. Instead, they followed me around at 5 miles per hour through the course of my bike ride through back streets for about a half-hour. At one point I stopped and asked the female cop (I was too jarred at the moment to request her name or badge number) why I was being followed. She wouldn’t give me any reason other than “because you’re on my beat.” I asked her if there are laws governing surveillance of activists, and whether I’m a suspect in a crime, and she would not give me any information.
I told her “Just to let you know, I’m going to Oakland now.” She said “That’s fine, we’ll follow you there, too.”
I started walking my bike on the sidewalk south. I reached San Pablo Avenue, still walking. The two officers continued to follow me at 2 mph, all the while holding up traffic in the right lane on a very busy street and endangering lives. Because they lied to me and told me they were going to follow me into Oakland, I sat down at a bus stop at Ashby and San Pablo avenues.
Another cop arrived soon, BPD Officer O’Donnell, who has been present and observed me at a couple demonstrations. I asked “What’s up O’Donnell? Are you all going to arrest me or what? Go ahead if you’re gonna do it.” His reply was “Nope, not here to arrest you. I’m just your biggest fan!” and he snapped a couple shots of me with his digital camera. I continued walking south. He pulled up to the curb with his lights flashing. He asked, “So you going to any houses today?” I asked “What?” and mistakenly thought I was being detained. He said “You know, going to houses and doing your UC SCUM chants or whatever you do.” I told him “I’m not gonna make your job easier, you’ll have to work for that” I asked why exactly I was being followed. He said “Because of your association with the animal rights movement and there’s been various crimes associated with that.”
I asked him for a connection of suspicion, and he said, “Oh there’s definitely a connection. It’s the same issue.”
He told me “Just so we’re clear, this is a consensual conversation...you’re not being detained. I don’t want to see my name up on the pixelex website like last time. You’re free to go at any time”
I made it clear to him that nothing they were doing was consensual, but I’d talk to them because they’d told me they were going to continue to follow me, even into another city. I asked him at one point, “So are they going to continue following me into Oakland?” He said, “That’s up to them. We’re a state police agency and we can technically go anywhere in the entire state.”
He also told me “I heard you on NPR with Carrie Kahn. I’ve done so many of these that I can pick out everyone’s voice.” I told him that I was never on NPR. He said, “Yeah I know, you gotta deny everything.”
He said “E-mail me if you’ll be doing any protests in the future! I know you won’t, but I won’t take it personal.” And he ended with the very ominous statement, “Until next time Joseph!”
Officer O’Donnell also made it clear he’s been watching closely the Stop Cal Vivisection website, Myspace bulletins, and made a guess on my address before even seeing my identification card.
What I’d like to inquire from the members of City Council:
Is this standard protocol regarding surveillance? Is the BPD’s job to use surveillance and harass activists who have dissenting or unpopular political viewpoints? If I am not a suspect in a specific crime, and the only reason they have stated for this level of harassment is “my involvement in the animal rights movement” is it legal for your city’s police department to follow me around and attempt to gain information on lawful political activity?
I look forward to dialogue. Let me know if you have any more questions.
Joseph Buddenberg is an Oakland resident and political activist.