Unprecedented Berkeley coalition is creating policies to regulate a wide variety of police-state abuses
"There is a real potential for problems when we give police the blank check to respond to mutual aid agreements," he said. "We're trying to ensure they respect this community's values."
"WE DON'T DO ICE'S JOB."
Arreguin and other members of his coalition have been working on modifying provisions of these documents, and they are expected to return to the council for a vote next month. But that's just the first step in Berkeley's efforts to create comprehensive peace and justice policies, covering civil liberties, crowd control policies, use of force, and cooperation with other policing agencies.
"The ordinance we're discussing would cover a lot of these areas," Arreguin said. "What we're trying to achieve here is more accountability."
For example, the police are the ones who decide what is an "emergency situation" that would trigger a mutual aid response. But should a peaceful protest that blocks traffic or goes on an unpermitted march be considered an emergency? "It may not be appropriate for us to respond to every request, particularly when it comes to political activities," Arreguin said. "Just because people are breaking laws, that shouldn't be a pretext to respond to mutual aid."
In a similar vein, the coalition is developing policies to support Berkeley's status as a sanctuary city for immigrants of all kinds and looking for ways to resist the federal Secure Communities program, a national database of fingerprints and arrest information that allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to place detention holds on those suspected of being undocumented immigrants.
The boards of supervisors in San Francisco, Santa Clara, and other jurisdictions have tried unsuccessfully to opt out of the program, something that requires state approval. But the activists say Santa Clara has become a model by following up with an ordinance that says the county won't honor the federal requests until they have a signed written agreement to cover all the county's costs associated with honoring the holds.
"We don't do ICE's job," Sup. George Shirakawa told supporters after the Oct. 17 vote, according to published reports. Arreguin called the effort "a smart approach and we want to see if we can do it in Berkeley."
Other Bay Area cities have also begun to examine issues related to a police state that has expanded since the 9/11 attacks, including Richmond and Piedmont. In San Francisco, the latest process of challenging the role of local police officers in domestic surveillance — issues the city has periodically wrestled with for decades — began earlier this year ("Spies in blue," April 26). It led to an ordinance that would limit that activity, which activists say Sup. Jane Kim will introduce next month.
"If our local police are going to work with the FBI at all, they have to observe our local laws," says John Crew, the police practices expert with the ACLU-Northern California who has been helping develop San Francisco's ordinance. "Far to often, the FBI has shown interest in protest activities that have nothing to do with illegal activities."
For example, documents unearthed by a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the Bay Guardian and through other avenues show FBI coordination with local police agencies related to the Occupy protests, those aimed at BART, and in the aftermath of the trail of Johannes Merserle, the former BART officer who shot Oscar Grant. The UC Board of Regents also canceled a meeting last month where a large protest was organized, citing unspecified intelligence about threats to public safety.
Crew noted that a right to privacy is written into California's constitution, yet San Francisco has two experienced police inspectors assigned full-time to work with FBI and its Joint Terrorism Task Force. "They aren't focused on laws being broken, but on collecting massive amounts of information," Crew said.