There are those who call Berkeley's streets home. And then there is the Berkeley Downtown Association. Those on Berkeley's streets probably don't think much at all about the BDA per se - they just want a safe place to keep their stuff and to sleep. The BDA, on the other hand, thinks about the homeless all the time. The BDA wants development. It does not want the homeless in downtown Berkeley, and while it will go to great lengths to sound compassionate and reasonable about their plight, it has gone to even greater lengths to eject the homeless from Berkeley's downtown.
Two years ago the BDA sponsored and financed a sit-and-lie ballot initiative to criminalize homelessness. It narrowly failed.
Around that time the BDA also created its own army of "hospitality ambassadors" who patrol downtown Berkeley cleaning up trash (good), assisting tourists (good) and harassing the homeless (bad). They had been restrained in how much harassment they could get away with without raising the hackles of Berkeley's civil libertarians until... the number of homeless began to increase. And increase some more. And "Something had to be done." Then...
Just weeks ago the BDA exerted its political muscle and convinced six of the nine members of Berkeley's City Council (they didn't need much convincing) to put into motion the process for passage of criminalizing ordinances that would push the homeless away and effectively into Alameda County's jails - to Declare War on the Homeless (Part I).
Although nothing has yet been enacted, in beginning the process the BDA and the City Council sent a loud and clear message to the Berkeley police, BDA's ambassadors, and the online trolls who have no other purpose in life but to write nasty and subtly threatening comments about the homeless: it was open season on people in the streets.
And so this came to pass:
Berkeley 'Hospitality Ambassador' Punches Homeless Man in Face, Continues the Beating. Homeless Man Arrested.
We watch as one of BDA's ambassadors and a man face off, just inches apart and screaming at each other (obvious no-nos to begin with on the part of the so-called ambassador). Then the BDA employee delivers a hard right to the man's jaw, and commences pummelling him. Mayhem ensues.
All this would have been bad enough, if not for what happened afterwards. The ambassadors reported the incident to their supervisors but blatently lied about what happened.
"((The)) report did not represent the extent and severity of the altercation, describing the event as an act of self-defense by the ambassador"Why not lie, after all, for who would believe homeless people over them? (Not unlike a number of instances of police reports describing beatings for which video was later revealed)
Hours after the confrontation, on Friday evening, March 20th, the police came and arrested the homeless duo, taking them off to jail for the weekend. On Monday, they were arraigned and for whatever reasons copped to various misdemeanors in a plea deal.
... both already had entered no contest pleas Monday for misdemeanor battery, and were sentenced to two years of probation. According to the district attorney's office, they received credit for time served, will have to pay into a restitution fund, and will be subject to law enforcement searches and prohibited from possessing weapons. They also were ordered to stay away from the downtown Berkeley CVS.Unbeknownst to almost everyone the above video had been recorded, and it was posted sometime on Sunday. Not 'til Thursday, however, did it get any attention when a local newspaper, Berkelyside, wrote up the story and embedded the video on their website.
As you might imagine, then the shit hit the fan. The BDA ambassador who threw the first punch was fired and the other one suspended. The story got picked up by the San Francisco Chronicle and The UK's Guardian in Friday's editions. The youtube video has been viewed almost 35,000 times (as this is being published). BDA officials profusely apologized (mostly for being caught on video, we assume). Of course it was too late - the two victims were now injected (or re-injected) into the criminal injustice system.
The City Councilor who sponsored the new legislation stated during the debate on it (to guffaws) that she did not wish to criminalize the homeless. And yet even before the proposals are implemented we have prima facie evidence that, unlike Dorothy, her wishes are not coming true (or maybe they are).
Let's be clear: by the very act of proposing such legislation, let alone enacting it, something similar to what happened here was bound to happen, if not sooner, then later. And it may in fact have already happened more than once - just not caught on video.
We've soon enough seen the result of effective carte blanche given to the DBA and the Berkeley Police to "deal" with the homeless and "enforce our laws." Do we need to wait until someone is much more seriously injured, or even killed, before realizing and effecting what study after study has shown - criminalizing the homeless is not the answer.
These pictures were first published on the First They Came for the Homeless Facebook, credited to 'Menefee.'
FTCftH also posted the following statement:
The war on the poor is happening now in Berkeley. The Downtown Business Association represents the money. The people who don't have any don't count. Get the homeless away from the businesses. Make it so they can't be on the sidewalk. This is the plan. Unfortunately for them, we know it's our sidewalk too. And we aren't giving up our rights because of a few greedy people.Statement from an East Bay Community Law Center legal activist:
Osha Neumann, an attorney with the East Bay Community Law Center, said, "Multiple times in the past couple months, private citizens have recorded Berkeley Police arresting homeless people with disabilities in ways that resulted in injuries. This incident differs only in that the shirt is yellow rather than blue.
Just last week, the DBA brought to Berkeley's City Council a slate of six new anti-homeless laws that criminalize everyday activities. This isn't a coincidence. When the DBA pushes for criminalization, police and ambassadors feel pressured to use force to push homeless citizens out of public spaces. We don't want to see just the one guy who got caught fired: We want the DBA to end its campaign of criminalization and brutality against homeless people. If they want to address homelessness, then they need to be good faith members of the community, and participate in public processes like the Homeless Taskforce."