Public Comment

A Step on the Road to Protect Civil Rights

By George Lippman, Coalition for a Safe Berkeley and Chair, Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission (for purposes of identification only)
Tuesday February 28, 2012 - 01:47:00 PM

Last week, Berkeley moved forward a small step forward towards new civil rights and civil liberties protections. In this note I will share some of my personal reflections on this accomplishment. This is not a statement of the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley or the Peace and Justice Commission. 

I'll begin with the current update, and explain the background events of 2011 below. 

At their last meeting the Berkeley City Council returned to the five Berkeley Police Department (BPD) documents it had tabled last fall: three external agreements (the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, or NCRIC; Urban Areas Security Initiative, or UASI; and operational agreements with the UCB PD), and two internal policies (criminal intelligence and jails).  

A major concern with NCRIC and UASI is their reliance on Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR). The concern is that suspicious activity is such a subjective concept that it encompasses non-criminal behavior, and has led to racial, political, and religious profiling. 

Some 25-30 speakers shared their stories with the Council. They made personal their reasons for opposing government spying and profiling, the co-optation of local cops into Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) mass deportation scheme, and mutual aid being used to crack down on free expression. With the support of the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, Councilmember Jesse Arreguin proposed moderate changes to the agreements and policies. 

I was disappointed that the Council majority (6-3) extended the relationship with NCRIC, UASI, and UCPD unconditionally through the end of the current mandate in April. Only one of Mr. Arreguin’s provisions was passed: a request that the police chief ask UC to adopt the City's practice of allowing drivers stopped without documents to contact a relative to have the automobile picked up. 

But my interpretation is that the community gained more than we lost. While the Council essentially returned to status quo, we fielded dozens of strong and very diverse speakers, without exception supporting changes to a wide range of police practices. The Council and the City Manager promised to engage the Police Review Commission (PRC) immediately in a full review of community concerns and Arreguin’s proposals. The PRC and the BPD are to report back to Council by May 15, with their recommendations for changes to the 2012 round of agreements. 

On the Council there were three strong proponents for Arreguin’s package of changes, out of five votes needed to pass them. It's also clear that we got our message through to the entire Council that change is needed. Here’s a summary of supportive comments made by members of Council members who wanted more time to consider the changes: 

Mr. Capitelli: I support the towing policy change; support protecting people from ICE, we are a Sanctuary City, do not cooperate with ICE. 

Mr. Wozniak: Let’s make as many of these changes as we can. Council is united that we want to allow people to engage in peaceful political protest. We should negotiate with other departments on improving their rules in this regard. 

Ms. Maio: In Berkeley, "we are who we are," that’s why we are a Sanctuary City, respect people, have a PRC, etc. We want the best possible provisions in our MOU’s to safeguard civil liberties, not cooperate with ICE, ensure that police force is not militarized through training—we have always stood for that. Do it thoughtfully, carefully. Thanks to Jesse Arreguin, we will make it better than it’s ever been. 

For a good press report on the Council action, refer to the ABC Channel 7 news piece, at: 

We should have no illusions that this campaign is over. Pressure from national security, surrounding communities’ police forces, and vested interests in the City will fight back against these reforms. We can't take supportive words from the authorities for granted. We need to organize widely, give input into the PRC's review process, and come back to Council in May with a strong showing for human rights. 

If you live, study, or work in Berkeley, let the Coalition know if you want to get involved with the next phase of the campaign. Otherwise, talk to us if you are interested in starting a similar campaign in your community.  

If we can pass the full platform of changes especially with regard to the fusion center agreement, we will take a stand that no other community in the country has ever taken. 


The Coalition for a Safe Berkeley formed last spring to draft and lobby for a new municipal ordinance. The Berkeley Civil Rights Ordinance would restrain Berkeley from collaborating with federal law enforcement agencies in their pursuit of unconstitutional, repressive activities. Specifically, it would ban local involvement in political, ethnic, and religious-based surveillance and intelligence-sharing as practiced by agencies like the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) and the regional fusion centers, such as the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC). The Ordinance would also ban collaboration with ICE's infamous S-Comm program (misleadingly named “Secure Communities”), responsible for deportations of hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers and their families. Finally, it would attempt to restrain the stubborn practice of racial profiling, by mandating collection of demographic data on police interactions with civilians and the publication of the aggregated data. 

Through the Coalition's work on the Ordinance, we became aware of an opportunity to address the same issues using concrete, immediate examples. Here's what happened: 

1) The annual Council review of all BPD external agreements came due. This packet of 1,100 pages of agreements and internal policies provided great insight into the department’s collaboration with other law enforcement agencies. It includes agreements with NCRIC, ICE, and JTTF, local policies on jail procedures including the handling of detainer requests (such as those from ICE), and the management of criminal intelligence, which includes non-violent civil disobedience as a criminal predicate. Law Enforcement Mutual Aid, not addressed by the Ordinance draft, is another major subject of these agreements. 

2) In October and November, Occupy Oakland, Berkeley, Cal, and Davis, along with almost every other encampment nationally, became targets of militarized and coordinated police attacks. BPD officers participated through mutual aid in the eviction of Occupy Oakland, which was characterized by inexcusable violence including the disabling of Marine vet Scott Olsen, his skull fractured by a police tear gas canister. These events raised many questions for the thoughtful:  

  • Why were Berkeley police there? Even if they only played supportive roles like traffic duty, weren't they abetting a human rights violation?
  • What is the duty of Berkeley police when other police break the law by violently suppressing demonstrations, failing to wear identification, and other crimes against the Constitution? Should not the BPD try to stop the official law-breaking?
  • In a democratic society, who makes the decisions about where our police are dispatched? How can the civilian leadership of the city assert our city's values, and control over its "military" forces?
3) One protestor's story brought together many of the threads of concern, including suppression of freedom of expression, mutual aid, and collaboration with ICE. Pancho Ramos, an immigrant of a spiritual bent whose student visa had lapsed, was arrested at Occupy Oakland while quietly praying. When all the arrestees were released, Pancho was turned over by Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern to ICE due to a detainer request. Sheriff Ahern is known to be a supporter of S-Comm and a leader of the militaristic “Urban Shield” police training program. Testimony by Pancho's supporters helped persuade Berkeley's City Council to ask the County not to comply with civil immigration detainers, which even ICE admits are voluntary requests. 

On November 8, in light of all this tumult, Berkeley City Council member Jesse Arreguin persuaded a unanimous Council to defer approval of three agreements (NCRIC, Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), and operational agreements with the UCB PD) and two internal policies (criminal intelligence and jails). These five were re-scheduled to February 14 for further discussion.  

I'll leave off with a quote from the always-eloquent Council member Max Anderson: 

"There is a sense in this country that we should be willing to sacrifice civil liberties for safety. That hasn't worked out so well for any country that I know, when these trade-offs are made. And when state and local governments are starving for resources, and the federal government comes along and says, 'Hey, I'll buy you a SWAT team, I'll buy you an armored vehicle, I'll buy you assault rifles and I'll give you body armor'--it's very hard to resist the temptation. But those kinds of offers and those kinds of acceptances come with strong political strings. They require of us that we sacrifice, if we are willing to, our local values, for something called the greater good, that's defined by someone else. We end up in a society where there are conflicts that play themselves out on the stage of maximum armament on the side of the police....  

"When we have issues that arise as a result of political conflicts in the country, such as decisions to go to war, or not to go to war, or the imbalance in resources, and life chances and prospects for success in this country break down into 99% vs. 1%...then the police are asked to play a decisive role in trying to mediate these disputes on the streets. And the police departments by and large are ill-equipped to do that. They have weaponry, they have resources, and they have mutual aid agreements, but at the end of the day nobody wants to see a country firing on its own citizens. 

"My voice remains strong about the necessity for having civilian control over military, quasi-military, and paramilitary forces in the country....Jesse and a number of groups in the Coalition see the danger of mutual aid agreements that are blind and reflexive in their nature." 


Max begins speaking in this video at around 2:21:45.