Berkeley, Tear Gas and the Police Chief

Categories: Open Mic

Please contact and/or attend the Berkeley City Council tonight to oppose the chief of police’s reactionary response to the proposed use of force policy.

Thursday, July 23, 2020, 6:00 P.M.
Please use this URL

See:   Scroll down to Item 3.

Background: the Police Review Commission, after a years-long process, has proposed a stronger policy to curtail BPD use of force.

Also, last month the city council banned use of pepper spray in crowd control during the pandemic, and banned use of tear gas in ALL circumstances and PERMANENTLY (strengthened by motion of Cheryl Davila).

At the last minute, the chief is fighting back.  He is telling the city council to overturn its policy and allow tear gas.  Chief Greenwood makes many other suggestions that undermine the safety and security of community members.  This last-minute intervention must be rejected.  If Council is uncertain, they must not allow themselves to be railroaded and must send the chief’s late demands back to the PRC for evaluation.

The chief’s letter can be found here:  Supplemental material, Police Department (Supp 2)  I will highlight some of the most damaging elements of his counter-proposal below.  You can use this as a source for talking points tonight.  This meeting has a very short agenda and this item will come up quickly after 6pm.

I.  The chief’s proposal completely wipes out the Council’s landmark June decision, its first action after the murder of George Floyd, to ban tear gas and limit pepper spray use to non-crowd control situations. While he affirms that chemical weapons may not be used to disperse peaceful demonstrators, he allows its use when a commander determines its use is “objectively reasonable and objectively necessary.”  This rule takes us back to the worst moments of the December 2014 Black Lives Matter protest when Telegraph Avenue was flooded with an ocean of CS (“tear gas”) for miles.  These weapons are especially dangerous to those with compromised health conditions, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic which attacks the lungs.  The effects are utterly untargeted, affecting even people in neighboring homes.

II.  Chief Greenwood makes an astounding argument that banning CS will negatively affect BPD ability to call on other departments for mutual aid, and worse, will prompt Trump to send in Homeland Security goons to take over the city.  This argument needs a lot of unpacking.

>> The chief is essentially demanding that we must become Trump to prevent Trump from taking over Berkeley.  Use of CS is a hallmark of the feds’ violent repression in Portland, with the mayor himself being gassed Wednesday night.  Philadelphia’s DA has pledged to prosecute federal agents if Trump sends them as he heard threatened, if they unlawfully assault and kidnap people.  Our City and our County DA should take bold action to resist unconstitutional federal intervention rather than acing like it.

>> BPD has both the right and the duty to supervise its invited mutual aid partners, both in terms of personnel and equipment.  This is substantiated by City Council policy since 1992, analysis by multiple civil rights attorneys, and recommendations by the PRC and Peace and Justice Commission.

III.  “There is no use of force to report when the subject allowed him/herself to be searched, escorted, and/or handcuffed or placed in a control hold, since the officer did not use force to overcome resistance, nor did the officer use force in the absence of resistance.
Rationale: This would explicitly confirm there is no use of force involved in the listed scenarios.”

A control hold is definitely use of force.  How is it believable that a subject allowed the police to use a control hold, making it not a use of force?  The chief takes the officer’s word that the subject allowed the control hold, and therefore it is not use of force and the officer does not even need to report that it happened.  Incredible.

IV.  “[Required reports of] Officer’s use of force was limited to the following: 1. Firearm drawn from holster or otherwise deployed in during an interaction with an individual, and/or displayed, and/or pointed at that an individual to compel them to take a desired action. No report is necessary where an officer draws or deploys a weapon outside of the subject’s view, or during any activity, such as a building search, where the firearm was never pointed at a subject in order to gain compliance.” (emphasis added)

These changes will allow officers to point a gun at a subject’s back, or without the subjective intent to compel a desired action (how about just to terrorize or intimidate?).  This must be rejected.

V.  This new language on deadly force needs to be closely examined and must not be adopted tonight.

“A threat of “imminent death or serious bodily injury” exists when, based on the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable officer in the same situation would believe that a person the person threatening danger has the present ability, opportunity, and apparent intent to immediately cause death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person.The threatened harm does not have to be instantaneous, but requires immediate action to resolve. The period of time involved is dependent on the circumstances and facts of each situation and is not the same in all situations. An officer’s subjective fear of future harm alone is insufficient as an imminent threat.”

I am concerned that this language gives too much wiggle room for using deadly force to address harm that may occur at some future time, or has already occurred but no longer warrants deadly force. 

There are other problematic sections of the chief’s proposal.  This is a rushed hatchet job.  It is another reason to call for the chief’s replacement by the city manager, which should be demanded by the city council.  It goes beyond mere symbolism and threatens real harm to the populace especially communities of color, insubordination to the elected officials, and an utter deafness to the quickly changing community expectations on use of force in this era of anti-racism and justice for victims of police violence.


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