Berke­ley coun­cil OKs po­lice us­ing pep­per spray on vi­o­lent protesters

The Mercury News Weekend - - OBITUARIES & IN MEMORIAMS - By Tam­mer­lin Drum­mond tdrum­mond@ba­yarea news­group.com Con­tact Tam­mer­lin Drum­mond at 510-2086468.

BERKE­LEY » Amid cat­calls and cries of shame from the gallery, the City Coun­cil voted Tues­day to al­low po­lice to use pep­per spray in an ef­fort to curb vi­o­lent protesters, two days be­fore con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tor Ben Shapiro’s sched­uled speech on the UC Berke­ley cam­pus.

Po­lice Chief An­drew Green­wood re­quested the au­tho­riza­tion, ar­gu­ing that of­fi­cers had in­ad­e­quate tools for deal­ing with “new weapons, new tac­tics and a higher level of co­or­di­na­tion than we have seen” at clashes be­tween con­ser­va­tive and far-right protesters and those who he said had “launched bru­tal at­tacks against those they have de­cided shouldn’t be al­lowed to speak.”

Green­wood called the sit­u­a­tion ur­gent, with the po­ten­tial for more vi­o­lent clashes Thurs­day when Shapiro was slated to ap­pear at 7 p.m. be­fore a sold- out crowd at Zeller­bach Hall, ex­pected to draw 1,000 stu­dents. At least one group, Refuse Fas­cism, was plan­ning to protest his ap­pear­ance and called for a 6 p.m. rally in Lower Sproul Plaza. Later this month, Milo Yiannopou­los and con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tor Ann Coul­ter have said they will ap­pear on cam­pus dur­ing Free Speech week, rais­ing the specter of more vi­o­lent protests.

Berke­ley has be­come a bat­tle­ground be­tween con­ser­va­tives and coun­ter­protesters on the left. Though most of the protesters were peace­ful, clashes be­tween smaller groups have left civil­ians and po­lice of­fi­cers in­jured.

“We have seen ex­trem­ists on the left and on the right in our city,” said Mayor Jesse Ar­reguin, who in­tro- duced the mo­tion to amend the use- of-force pol­icy, elic­it­ing loud boos. “We aren’t dis­tin­guish­ing be­tween ide­ol­ogy, we are con­cerned about the vi­o­lence on both sides.”

Green­wood and Ar­reguin stressed that un­der the new pol­icy, po­lice still could not use pep­per spray “to dis­perse a crowd or on peo­ple en­gaged in peace­ful legal or un­law­ful non­vi­o­lent re­sis­tance.” That was, how­ever, the case dur­ing a 2011 protest at UC Davis that drew wide­spread con­dem­na­tion.

Green­wood said the use of pep­per spray aerosol dis­pensers, which of­fi­cers al­ready carry on their belts, would al­low them to em­ploy “a di­rect, lim­ited ap­pli­ca­tion of force to re­pel spe­cific at­tack­ers. By con- trast, he said, tear gas re­leases a chem­i­cal ir­ri­tant into a larger area that can af­fect peace­ful protesters, while us­ing ba­tons car­ries a greater risk of in­jury to of­fi­cers and sus­pects.

Yet more than two dozen peo­ple spoke for two hours against the change to the de­part­ment’s Gen­eral Or­der U-2 Use of Force pol­icy, ar­gu­ing that it would es­ca­late rather than de-es­ca­late vi­o­lence, that the pep­per spray would harm peo­ple be­yond those in­di­vid­u­als tar­geted and that city of­fi­cials had not given mem­bers of the pub­lic enough no­tice to at­tend the meet­ing and par­tic­i­pate in the de­bate.

“At­tempt­ing to tear- gas peo­ple in a crowd could re­sult in a se­ri­ous stam­pede with many peo­ple get­ting hurt,” said J.P. Mas­sar, a physi­cist at UC Berke­ley, dur­ing the pub­lic com­ments. “We don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen. Are you will­ing to be re­spon­si­ble?”

Coun­cilmem­bers Kriss Wor­thing­ton, Ch­eryl Dav­ila and Kate Har­ri­son voted against the mea­sure. Berke­ley res­i­dent Chris­tine Schwartz was among the hand­ful of speak­ers who voiced sup­port.

“I did see peo­ple out there with weapons,” she said. “I think our po­lice are in a bad sit­u­a­tion, and we need to give them all the tools they need.”

STAFF FILE PHOTO

Po­lice of­fi­cers clash with protesters dur­ing pro and anti-Trump demon­stra­tions at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Cen­ter Park in Berke­ley ear­lier this year.

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