All hell broke loose at KPFA Radio Aug. 20 when a station volunteer resisted Berkeley police, summoned by station management to remove her from the premises.
Police were called to the studios at 1929 Martin Luther King Jr. to arrest Nadra Foster, whom management had banned from the station. The arrest turned violent, with as many as eight officers descending on the station and the pregnant five-foot-five-inch African-Ameri-can woman biting at least one of them.
The original intent of the Pacifica Foundation—which holds the license to five community-sponsored radio stations—is aimed at resolving conflict peacefully.
In a video that can be viewed at www.blockreportradio.org, Foster says station management should have used peaceful means to achieve its objectives.
“As far as community stations, where we think we have progressive ways to peace, there are tools we should have used right away,” Foster said, likening management’s call to police to “having a fire and throwing kerosene on it.”
“People at Pacifica are appalled at what happened,” Pacifica General Counsel Dan Siegel told the Planet by phone on Wednesday.
An unpaid programmer for some 10 to 12 years and graduate of the apprenticeship program, Foster had been told by management that she could not enter the station after a verbal altercation in May over using station resources for private use, according to Tracy Rosenberg, local station board member and Media Alliance director.
Foster has been a volunteer programmer at KPFA for a decade or more without any known incident before this year, Rosenberg said.
In May, Foster was accused of using station copiers and telephones for personal use. In a statement to police, Pacifica Business Manager Lois Withers described the original incident in the following way: “On May 8, 2008 I asked her not to print personal documents using station resources. This was the second set of documents she printed before I said anything to her.”
Arguing, Withers and Foster went toward the office of the Interim General Manager Lemlem Rijo, who Foster said would back her up and allow her to copy her documents.
“We were walking towards Lemlem’s office when [Foster] stopped suddenly,” Withers said. “She pushed back against me forcefully so we were within an inch of each other. She was in my face, and kept yelling at me. She was yelling so loudly several people came out of their offices to see what was going on. At the time I was frightened ... I was afraid she might attack or hurt me ... She just kept getting louder and louder. I told her if she didn’t stop she would have to leave.”
Withers concluded, “Based on this incident, Foster was banned from the station. Lemlem called her and e-mailed her regarding her ban.”
But as Rosenberg tells it—Foster was not available for comment—there was never anything in writing.
“She didn’t consider it official,” Rosenberg said, noting that Foster continued coming to the station to work on programming. Other staff, who gave access to the station to Foster on Aug. 20, apparently had not been informed about the ban.
While various accounts of the incident say Foster was working on a radio show the day police were called to eject her, Siegel said Foster has not been involved in programming at the station for four months.
In the police report, Withers says the incident began with KPFA staff person Kevin Beachem seeing Foster in an auxiliary studio “on the phone, on a personal call.” Beachem told Foster he needed to use the studio, but she replied that the call was important. Withers said she went to get a colleague, because she didn’t want to confront Foster alone.
“I told Foster I wanted her to go to an office to talk to her, but she refused,” Withers statement to police says. “I told her she was not supposed to be here, and I told her why, because of the yelling, mailing personal letters, and using a studio phone for a personal call.”
Withers said she asked Foster to leave and Foster refused. She confirmed her decision to call police with the human resource manager.
“I called BPD to remove Foster,” she said.
In a statement posted at www.assatashakur.org, Hard Knock Radio staff member Anita Johnson described the arrest.
“When I return [from trying to get help] the police are still struggling with Nadra. They are trying to handcuff her and then throw her down on the concrete floor ... Nadra is screaming, ‘Stop, Help me, get off me. I’m pregnant.’ One of the officers has his knee on her groin. Another one is pressing her arms against her chest and his full body weight is top of her....”
Johnson said she was photographing the arrest and was told to leave the scene by one of the officers.
While both management and Foster supporters say police acted inappropriately, the police report describes a scene in which police were attacked. (A spokesperson for the police did not return calls for comment before deadline.)
“Based on her refusal to leave, refusal to comply with my legal orders, and refusal to identify herself, I decided to handcuff Foster,” wrote Officer Alexandar McDougall in the Aug. 20 police report. He describes grabbing Foster’s left hand and Foster pulling away.
“Officer [Erik] Keene grabbed her right hand, and she began to flail her arms and fight violently.” McDougall yelled at her to stop fighting and radioed for backup. “Officer Keene said, ‘Let’s go to the ground,’ and together we placed Foster on the ground” at which time she began yelling she was pregnant. “I was trying to pull Foster’s arm behind her back and she was trying to pull her hand underneath her body. When our hands got near her head, she leaned over and bit my right thumb. I was wearing gloves, but I felt an immediate sharp pain in my thumb.” The report continues to describe how Foster attempted to kick the officers. With additional officers on the scene, they handcuffed her then put her in restraints, took her to the hospital to have her wounds examined, and booked her at Santa Rita.
An Aug. 22 e-mail to staff from Rijo says that while management called police to have Foster removed, “It is important for you to know that the Berkeley Police acted independent of direction from KPFA.”
Rosenberg said calling the police in the first place was out of line. “My feeling is that this was a workplace dispute. It might involve a reprimand. No way do I see the gravity to call for banning or enforcement of the banning by lethal force,” she said.
Foster’s supporters underscored the dangers of calling police when the suspect is African-American.
Writing in the S.F. Bayview newspaper (no longer in print but on line at www.sfbayview.com) editor Willie Ratcliff, a former KPFA local station board member, writes, “How could managers [of a station] ... that proudly considers itself the most progressive in Northern California not know the dangers of calling the police on a young black person?”
Weyland Southon, a Hard Knock Radio producer, said on air, as quoted by Rosenberg: “This is a place where we report on police brutality. This is a place where we hold the police accountable for wrongdoing. To bring the cops willingly into KPFA to deal with a situation like this was shortsighted. Situations like this get us killed.”
Siegel agreed. “It seems the police overdid it. It’s not what I expect of the Berkeley Police Department,” he said. “I expect them to act in a reasonable, cautious manner.”
Asked whether there was a procedure to let staff know if someone was banned from the station, Siegel said he thought that was an issue of privacy for the banned individual. “I don’t want to put them on a ‘no fly list,’” he said. “We try to deal with it in a sensitive way.”
Rosenberg said another outstanding problem is that there is no grievance procedure for unpaid staff at the station. (After problems stemming from questions of who would be counted as “unpaid staff,” KPFA management last year decertified an organization that represented volunteers.)
Resolving issues by calling the police is contrary to the network’s purpose, Rosenberg said. “Pacifica’s mission is about resolving conflict without the use of force.”
KPFA managers say they want the charges dropped. “KPFA does not intend to press trespassing charges, and we are doing everything in our power to ensure the police charges are dropped,” said Rijo in an e-mail to staff.
Siegel noted, however, that added charges related to the trespassing incident had escalated to resisting arrest.
Siegel instructed KPFA management to refer press calls to him.
On Aug. 22 Foster pleaded not guilty to charges that originally were felonies, but were reduced to misdemeanors involving trespassing, resisting arrest and battery on a police officer. The next court date is Sept. 22 in the Wiley Manuel Courthouse in Oakland.
District Attorney Robert Hartman, charged with the case, was out of the office Wednesday when the Planet tried to contact him.
KPFA Local Station Board Chair Andrea Turner said the board will discuss the incident at its Sept. 13 meeting, which begins at 11 a.m. at Café de la Paz, 1600 Shattuck Ave. Like others, Turner told the Planet she was concerned that rather than resolving the incident through dialogue, the call to police caused an escalation.
Discussion of the issue is also slated to take place at a community meeting, 3 p.m. Sept. 7 at the Black New World, 836 Pine St., West Oakland.