Berkeley evicts homeless protesters: an eyewitness report

Shane Brodie
Wednesday December 21, 2016 - 10:27:00 PM

On Tuesday night after meditation at my temple, I walked over to the Homeless Protest encampment near Berkeley Bowl (on the grassy median). A spokesperson gave me one of the paper eviction notices from the police and said they thought the police would be coming between 4 and 6 AM on Wednesday morning. They said the police like to roust them in the dark and as they are sleeping. 

The BPD has raided homeless encampments and protests like this several times in the last few weeks. Many local Bay Area citizens keep donating blankets and tents to replace the gear that the police throw away. Is Berkeley a progressive city or is this just hype? I like to think so, but actions of the police department and City Hall speak much louder than words. Together as a community we need to stop this cycle of cruelty toward our homeless and vulnerable neighbors. What we are doing is inadequate, often inappropriate, and it perpetuates suffering. 

I asked the protestors what they wanted supporters to do and they said to please emphasize to the police that it's a protest and they have a right to be there, there's no sanitation problems, and for people to just be there to witness to help ensure that the police don't hurt the protestors. I noticed that the protestors were very friendly and congenial to one another and they were warming a dinner of beans and tortillas for each other over small camp stoves. There were three porta potties (donated by Friends of Adeline Street community group), it was very clean and uncluttered, and I counted 4 wheelchair users nearby. 

I showed up at about 4:15am. I walked around to keep warm and saw police, parking, and park maintenance vehicles lining the side streets.They decided quickly surround the median and to block off Adeline street at about 5am. There were 30 or so police officers plus about as many vehicles - heavy duty trucks, cruisers, undercover vehicles. About 20 park maintenance and parking enforcement workers also helped the police. They put a police tape line around the whole area and no one supporting the protestors was allowed through, not even lawyers, reporters or photojournalists, who are legally guaranteed this right and argued with the police about it. 

The police threw away the protest signage first. Several protestors were arrested immediately and without any provocation. Most people had all of their belongings confiscated and bagged to be thrown away (tents, personal objects, sleeping bags, clothes etc). A few people packed up their gear and placed it on the sidewalk near Berkeley Bowl. A couple of tents plus contents were lifted by the police and placed on the sidewalk. 

It was unclear why some people were arrested and some personal belongings were confiscated and thrown away ...and some were not. I talked to a private lawyer of someone who was arrested; her client didn't have a warrant and she wanted to know what the charges were. The police wouldn't tell the lawyer the charges and she couldn't even talk with her client who was isolated in a windowless van. 

National Lawyers Guild representatives and several people with cameras and cellphones kept walking the perimeter. An older and very feisty Black woman with a walker (from Harriet Tubman Terrace) came out and argued with the police that the people have a right to stay and nowhere to go. One woman who was riding her bike to work kept me company for a while and kept shouting at the police that what they were doing was shameful and to have a Merry Christmas. 

A police officer lied to us and said that people would be offered shelter beds downtown, but I know there's few beds available, because I volunteer at the men's shelter. The statistics that the city loves to cite about available beds on any given night are very skewed. Many of these folks require much more care than those shelters provide and some of them have been 86'ed for mental health problems (or other medical problems such as addiction) that are not appropriately accommodated or they can't even get in because they have dogs. 

After I mentioned some of this, the police officer lied again and said they were going to be taken to a special place they are setting up in west Berkeley. I later asked a representative at Berkeley Food and Housing Project about this "new shelter" and he had no idea what I was talking about. 

I left at about 6:15am and the police were standing around in clumps at that point. They'd been doing a lot of video taping of their interactions and of bystanders like myself. The park workers were erecting a fence around the grassy median when I left. Tonight I scrambled around and asked for donations from friends and went to a thrift store and bought two quilts, two bedspreads, and two sleeping bags. I drove around and I found a group of folks who needed them - 2 women and 3 men who were sitting near City Hall and keeping each others' spirits up. The sun had already set and they only had the clothes on their backs and were quite happy to get something to cover up with on this cold evening. The thicker sleeping bag went to an elderly man who is very ill and was slumped over and not speaking. 

The Bay Area has an ugly legacy of dealing with indigent, disabled, and poor people. San Francisco was the first city to pass "Ugly Laws" during the Civil War.The wounds that soldiers had suffered in war had to be covered from sight and they couldn't beg, even though they had no other way of providing for themselves. The implementation of these laws which were mimicked in many cities across the country, meant that you couldn't be a disabled person out in public. The avid support for these laws and their century-long usage and enforcement was aligned with the rise in eugenics here in the US. We are still living with that legacy