NLG and Stop Urban Shield Coalition Call for Berkeley City Council and Police Review Commission to Take Action on June 20 BPD Violence Against Protesters


Press Contacts:

Rachel Lederman, NLGSF Bay Area Chapter

Ellen Brotsky, Stop Urban Shield Coalition


NLG and Stop Urban Shield Coalition Call for Berkeley City Council and Police Review Commission to Take Action on June 20 BPD Violence Against Protesters

Berkeley resident Lewis Williams has submitted a complaint to the Police Review Commission regarding improper use of force when he was clubbed in the head by a Berkeley Police Officer as part of a violent police response to a peaceful protest of the Berkeley City Council’s vote to continue involvement with Urban Shield on June 20. Mr. Williams, a 73 year old retired teacher, was bending over to pick up his glasses, which had fallen on the ground, when an officer hit him over the head.

“I felt this blow on top of my head and then blood came streaming out,” Williams said. “It seems totally gratuitous that they would hit me like that. I didn’t see it coming. I am positive though that the only weapons or sticks in the vicinity were the batons being forcefully wielded by the police officers right in front of me, including one who had shoved me moments before I was hit on the head.”

Several other people were injured when BPD began hitting and shoving the crowd, including a photographer who was struck in the face. Two activists who had unfurled a banner following the Council’s vote on Urban Shield were arrested, with officers immediately using pain compliance techniques on them. When faced with chanting protesters outside, officers advanced on the crowd, using their batons indiscriminately without protesters a chance to disperse.

Organizers cited this aggressive response to a nonviolent protest as an example of the police brutality that is encouraged by Urban Shield. “Urban Shield militarizes the Bay Area’s emergency response system (police and healthcare providers) with SWAT training and weapons,” explained Ellen Brotsky of Stop Urban Shield Coalition. “In its training scenarios, required to have a “nexus of terrorism”, the “terrorists” are portrayed as Muslims, people of color, and protestors. This reinforces the racism of the Berkeley Police Department and its treatment of the community as the enemy.”

Only a few months ago, BPD agreed to changes in its First Amendment and Use of Force policies and training as a result of NLG litigation and a two year Police Review Commission (PRC) process arising from similar unlawful use of force against Black Lives Matter protesters on November 2, 2014. The NLG lawsuit brought by attorneys Rachel Lederman and Jim Chanin challenged officers’ indiscriminate use of batons against protesters and use of batons to herd protesters out of Berkeley. In that incident, a Chronicle reporter and a minister were hit on the heads similarly to Mr. Williams. Mr. Chanin and Ms. Lederman contacted Chief Greenwood after the recent June 20 incident to try to discuss the event, but the Chief never responded.

“There appears to be no justification for a head strike, which is potentially deadly and thus prohibited unless the officer reasonably believes that doing so is necessary to protect the officer or others from death or serious bodily injury,” said Chanin.

“We are alarmed to see BPD immediately fall back on the same type of needless escalation that failed so miserably before, so soon after promising to change its approach to one emphasizing de-escalation,” said Lederman. The June 22 letter from Lederman and Chanin to Chief Greenwood, attached, details some of the ways the BPD response on June 20 violated the Department’s own policies.

The National Lawyers Guild and Stop Urban Shield Coalition call on the Police Review Commission at its meeting tonight to take action to bring BPD into compliance with its new First Amendment and Use of Force Policies and to reject any further involvement with Urban Shield.