Occupy Berkeley protesters urge city not to take police action

Protesters affiliated with the Occupy Berkeley movement appeared at Tuesday evening's Berkeley City Council meeting.
Derek Remsburg/Staff
Protesters affiliated with the Occupy Berkeley movement appeared at Tuesday evening's Berkeley City Council meeting.

Fearing that their protest could suffer the same fate as Oakland’s, where clashes with police have resulted in the use of tear gas, Occupy Berkeley supporters urged the city not to take police action at the Berkeley City Council meeting Tuesday night.

The four protesters who spoke during public comment asked council members to support Occupy Berkeley, whose demonstrators were issued a notice Monday night ordering them to cease camping out at Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center Park, which they have been occupying since Oct. 15.

George Lippman, chair of city’s Peace and Justice Commission, noted that officers from the Berkeley Police Department helped officers from the Oakland Police Department evict protesters from the area in front of Oakland City Hall early Tuesday morning. According to the Oakland Tribune, more than 12 outside police agencies — including the Berkeley department and UCPD — were called in to aid Oakland police.

“I saw an atmosphere of great fear and intimidation,” Lippman said. “I just hope that we don’t see the same here in Berkeley.”

Although the council members did not respond directly to each person’s comment during the meeting, the fact that all public comments at the meeting were regarding the Occupy movement prompted Councilmember Max Anderson to address the topic.

“This issue is something that is hanging over our heads. Actions are being taken without the council’s knowledge,” he said. “I know it’s not on the agenda tonight but we must have it on the agenda soon.”

The notice the Berkeley demonstrators received Monday night from the City Manager’s office lists 15 directives applying to the use of the park prohibiting overnight camping, affixing banners to trees and amplifying sound without a permit, among other restrictions. The notice does not mention any potential police action, although it does indicate that Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan also received a copy of the notice.

UC Berkeley junior Bo-Peter Laanen, one of the facilitators of the group’s daily general assembly meetings, said a representative from the city, who Laanen said was not willing to answer any questions, handed over a copy of the notice to protesters present at the park Monday.

Berkeley resident Guruprem Singh Khalsa, who has been staying overnight at the park since Oct. 15, said the group is currently working on a response to the city’s notice, but it has yet to be completed as of Tuesday afternoon.

This is not the first notice issued to the protesters by the city manager’s office. City spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross said two notices were given to protesters last Thursday — one requesting tents be moved off of the center lawn to allow for irrigation and the other requesting that the Civic Center fountain be cleaned of the colored tape and permanent marker that were on it.

Although protesters relocated their tents to the lawn area on the perimeter of the park’s main circle to comply with the request, Clunies-Ross said city workers cleaned the fountain after protesters failed to do so. According to Occupy Berkeley’s website, protesters invited community members to water the park themselves last Saturday afternoon.

“We haven’t done everything the city has asked us, but we’ve been doing some of the them,” Khalsa said. “We figured that we would do things that symbolically followed the directives so that the city knows we are trying to cooperate.”

He added that the city covered the fountain with a large circular piece of wood after finding graffiti on the stone that had been sprayed with hairspray in order to make removal of the graffiti more difficult. It is unclear, however, if the person responsible for the graffiti was affiliated with the protest, he said.

The city council’s agenda committee will meet Oct. 31 to talk about when the Occupy Berkeley movement will be discussed by the whole council, said Mayor Tom Bates during the council meeting.