SURVEILLANCE IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Veena Dubal of the Asian Law Caucus, which has also been involved with Berkeley coalition, is happy to finally be connecting various issues related to an overreaching police state. "What's really exciting about the ordinance is it's pushing back on all these very problematic federal polices that have really gone after communities of color," she said. "The people being spied on in Berkeley are not the people who live in the hills, it's the students and people of color."
She said the Occupy movement, its broad appeal to the 99 percent, and police overreaction to peaceful protests have helped to highlight some of these longstanding policing issues and caused more people to feel affected by this struggle.
"The Occupy movement certainly brings these issues to an audience that wasn't concerned about it before. Surveillance and police brutality, all the sudden that's in the spotlight." she said, noting that people have begun to question their willingness to give police more power after 9/11. "More and more people are understanding that the powers the government took aren't just being directed at terrorists, but members of their families."
Willie Phillips of Berkeley's NAACP chapter, a lifelong Berkeley resident who has experienced discrimination and racial profiling by police his whole life, said it's good to finally build a coalition that broadens support for addressing policing issues.
"It gets people discussing issues that overlap and creating that kind of dialogue is important," he told us. "Separation only creates a division in addressing the issue that we're facing.....We have to start looking at our commonalities and our hopes, instead of fear, because fear is what divides us."
Phillips said the Occupy movement, with its engaged young people who have stood strong against aggressive police tactics, has helped place the spotlight back on policing issues after progress on combating racial profiling in the '90s was derailed by 9/11.
"It's shows that everyone can be marginalized," Phillips said of the Occupy movement. "Ninety-nine percent of people have been marginalized and that context helps us understand each other."
Arreguin hopes that Berkeley's work in this realm sparks discussions with other Bay Area jurisdictions. "We want to work on a regional level to deal with these issues," he said, later adding, "I've been alarmed as the police state has developed over the years."
Asked whether he's gotten any pushback from police to his efforts, Arreguin said Police Chief Michael Meehan and his department have been very cooperative and that "our police are just waiting for a dialogue about what kind of changes we want to see."
A Berkeley Police spokesperson says the department won't comment on political matters. Berkeley Police Association President Tim Kaplan said mutual aid agreements are important to public safety, but that "we do feel like we're part of the Berkeley community and we want to work with the city and its citizens....We're going to do what the law says."
And the coalition is intent on writing some of the country's most progressive laws for policing the police.
"The victory we had on mutual aid agreements is very exciting and we have an opportunity to make some real changes," Arreguin said.
Buttar said his organization has helped to facilitate similar coalitions in about 30 cities, from Los Angeles to Hartford, Conn. But he said Berkeley's is the biggest and has the most ambitious agenda. "I tend to think that just getting the coalition together is a win," Buttar said. "So, to that extent, Berkeley is already a model."