Berkeley protesters condemn police tactics

A protest organizer blamed Berkeley police and city officials for “mayhem” during demonstrations Saturday and Sunday nights as activist geared up for another round of protests Monday evening.

By Any Means Necessary organizer Ben Lynch said Berkeley police “were out of control” during demonstrations over the police shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the death of Eric Garner in New York from an officer’s chokehold.

Those cases, Lynch said, have “sparked a new movement” against racial discrimination in law enforcement:

“We think this is the beginning of an extended period of struggle.”

Lynch made his remarks outside of Wiley Manuel Courthouse in Oakland Monday afternoon, where arraignments were scheduled for some of the 11 protesters arrested over the weekend.

Activists called for another protest at 5 p.m. Monday at the corner of Bancroft and Telegraph avenues, near the University of California at Berkeley campus. In preparation for the protest, Berkeley City College closed at 3:30 p.m. and UC Berkeley recommended that faculty and staff go home by 4:30 p.m.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said in a statement this afternoon that the department is looking into accusations of unnecessary force by police:

“Berkeley has one of the best police departments in the nation with an exemplary record of conduct. … It’s possible that one or more officers may have exceeded what was required under the circumstances and could face discipline, but that determination requires an impartial review that we have not had an opportunity to complete yet.”

Bates acknowledged the majority of protesters were non-violent, but said:

“… we have had numerous reports of masked demonstrators as the main perpetrators of the damage and destruction. We don’t know who they are, but they are not welcome in Berkeley.”

Reports of violence and vandalism surfaced early into the demonstration Saturday evening. Within about 90 minutes, police had used tear gas and the windows of the Trader Joe’s store on University Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Way had been smashed.

Over the next several hours, there were numerous reports of vandalized business, injuries to police officers and police use of tear gas, smoke grenades and batons. Police said sandbags, pipes, bricks, sideview mirrors, and smoke grenades were thrown at police officers.

One officer suffered a dislocated shoulder when he was hit by a sandbag, police said. Lynch said today that police attacked peaceful protesters, provoking many in the crowd to lash out angrily.

Lila LaHood, president of the Society for Professional Journalists Northern California chapter, said in a letter to Berkeley city officials that three credentialed journalists were struck by batons as they covered the protests that night, including one who was hit in the head:

“Under no circumstances should members of the press be subject to such gratuitous and potentially deadly police violence.”

The Berkeley police response Sunday was more subdued, but vandalism of storefronts continued on two of Berkeley’s main thoroughfares — Shattuck and Telegraph avenues.

Some protesters tried to prevent others from breaking windows and looting businesses and one was hospitalized after being hit in the head with a hammer, police said. The protesters moved into Oakland, vandalizing Whole Foods Market, Any Mountain and Walgreens stores on their way.

They were eventually tear gassed by the California Highway Patrol when they blocked state Highway 24 just over the Berkeley-Oakland border. CHP officials said eight protesters were arrested there. Police said two officers suffered minor injuries Sunday.

Berkeley police said they arrested six protesters Saturday and five protesters Sunday, including suspects in the vandalism at Trader Joe’s and for assaulting a police officer.

One protester arrested Saturday, Kyle McCoy, said today that police mistakenly targeted him while blocking protesters movements Saturday night. He said he was arrested at about 9:30 p.m. at Bancroft and Telegraph avenues when he heard an officer call out “get the person in the black jacket.”

McCoy, who graduated from UC Berkeley last year, said police accused him of assault with a deadly weapon. When he appeared in court today, no charges had yet been filed.

With protests set to continue this evening, UC Berkeley officials have implored the student community to help maintain peace in the city.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said in a statement:

“We fully understand that there are many in our community, and across the country, who are deeply distressed about recent decisions in New York and Ferguson, and fully support their right to give voice to their concerns and frustration,. … At the same time, we hope that the anger expressed… will, in the days ahead, be channeled into constructive, non-violent action and advocacy that can advance the ongoing fight for justice and equity in our nation.”