Sarah Jane Holcombe, a graduate student in public health at UC Berkeley (and a neighbor of mine), was disturbed to see Alameda County deputy sheriffs using unnecessary force against peaceful student demonstrators. She's not alone -- a lot of people on campus have been upset about police conduct during the demonstrations. But Holcombe did more than grumble -- she wrote to Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern to complain. And she got back a remarkable message that says a lot about what the elected sheriff thinks about the protesters.
Here's Holcombe's letter:
Dear Mr Gregory Ahern,
I find myself just stunned and appalled at the behavior of your police in Sproul Plaza, and as a Berkeley student, have lost respect and confidence in the Alameda County Police Force.
Who are these Officers? Where were they trained?
Perhaps more to the point is, why are you authorizing such blatantly violent and anti-democratic behavior? This shows such bad judgement that I wonder why you are the head of the Alameda County Police Force.
Finally, what are you doing to address the gross problems and violations evident in Alameda County Police Officers' behavior?
My confidence and trust in you and your force is now very low.
I look forward to your response.
Ahern's letter back, sent within two hours:
I am shocked too. I am shocked educated individuals who violate laws do not expect to be arrested. I am shocked that people who speak of peace in our society attempt to do harm to law enforcement personnel. I am shocked that some protesters throw rocks, cement, bottles and paint at law enforcement. I am shocked that protesters throw urine and feces at police officers.
I am shocked at the vulgar language used at my staff.
I am shocked that people like you make judgements about law enforcement without knowing all the facts and without asking questions prior to making judgements and assigning guilt on those prior to any investigation.
When the protesters follow the laws of our society and our lawful commands we have no issues. Many of the protesters speak to us and provide us with their legal intentions to march and we assist them.
Let me tell you something.....my staff has done nothing wrong. They have assisted this community in allowing their free speech and right to assemble. We have provided protection to thousands of individuals and allowed them to practice their rights while some of those same individuals insult us. We have provided traffic blocks so people could march safely. We have protected buildings and provided escorts to frightened citizens in the area of the protest. We have escorted special need individuals and eldery from areas of the protest. We have assisted handicapped people to safety.
In each use of force that my staff has used has been in direct response to direct actions of individuals. We have not and do not and will not just use indiscriminate force. Each use of force is documented, reviewed and subject to further review of command staff. Indiscriminate force is not tolerated. Do not judge my people from news reports or YouTube videos.
I beg you to come to our training. I will provide you full access, I will answer any of your questions. I will prove we do our job correctly and according to national standards. Let me know when you can show up at our training.
It was signed Gregory Ahern. I called his press spokesman and he confirmed that this was Ahern's message and represents his position.
Actually, Sheriff, I didn't see many reports of protesters at Cal doing anything to harm police officers. And to simply say "my staff has done nothing wrong" without listing to an evaluating any complaints that might be filed seems, well, a rush to judgment.
And honestly, were there "frightened citizens" at Berkeley who needed to be escorted from buildings? Was beating up a poet appropriate use of force?
Sheriff Ahern has made his decision. Already.