Campus student allegedly racially profiled, detained by BPD

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“I am Free.”

Ismael Chamu posted those words and a photo of his mug shot to Facebook on Thursday evening. What followed was a detailed account of how Berkeley Police Department allegedly racially profiled, unlawfully detained and held him in jail for two days without explanation or justification.

Chamu, a campus senior, said he and a friend were walking along Piedmont Avenue about 2 a.m. after returning from a hike above campus when two officers approached them. After the officers informed the pair that they matched the description of suspects in a nearby burglary, Chamu alone was handcuffed and thrown into a police SUV.

According to BPD arrest-log data, Chamu was arrested for possessing a switch blade knife.

“I asked why I was being detained. (The police officer) said I wasn’t under arrest,” Chamu alleged in an interview with The Daily Californian. “I asked, ‘Why am I being thrown in jail?’ He said, ‘You already know why.’ ”

According to Chamu, who is Mexican, his friend who was with him when the detainment occurred is also Latino, but has “zero-to-no accent and very light skin; they told (his friend) to not hang out around here this late at night and let him go.”

After being detained, Chamu alleges that he was strip-searched, fingerprinted and held in Berkeley City Jail for more than 30 hours before being transferred to an Oakland jail, where he was eventually released to family Thursday evening about 6 p.m.

While detained in Oakland, Chamu describes allegedly being mocked by a sheriff. “He made a joke that I thought was the most personal. He said, ‘How have you frijole?’ ” Frijole translates to “bean” in Spanish.

According to Chamu, he repeatedly asked officers if he could speak to a lawyer throughout his detainment, but was never given right to counsel.

Because of his detainment, Chamu alleged he missed scheduled interviews for  both a fellowship and a scholarship. Chamu alleged that he was also unable to go to his shift at the restaurant he works at and believes he has lost his job because of the unexpected absence.

“My rights were not read. They did not give me counsel. Nobody knew. I literally just disappeared,” Chamu alleged.

According to an emailed statement from BPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel, “Chief Greenwood directed police staff to investigate the allegation. As Mr. Chamu’s allegations are part of an ongoing investigation, we won’t have any more details to share.”

Chamu alleges he is seeking “at least an apology” from BPD but has not been contacted by them since the detainment.

Chamu expressed difficulty with sleeping and eating since his detainment. He is planning on going to counseling as soon as possible but would not comment on any plans for legal action.

The Facebook post Chamu wrote late Thursday evening has now been shared more than 4,000 times and amassed almost 6,000 — predominantly angry — reactions.

On Friday, the ASUC released a statement signed by every senator-elect, save for Pirate Party Senator-elect Sunny Aggarwal, reacting to the allegations.

“The violent detainment and arrest of Ismael Chamu, on the morning of June 27 by Berkeley City police officers, is a result of racial profiling and state violence that should not be tolerated by the City of Berkeley, University of California, Berkeley, or any community,” read the statement.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín said in an emailed statement that “the city is looking into the allegations. We take them seriously and want to get the facts about what happened.”

Some of the reactions, however, have not been so constructive. According to Chamu, people have questioned the allegations he has made against BPD, saying such things as “Why was he walking at two in the morning. Why was he wearing a hoodie?” Chamu says these are irrelevant questions.

“People are trying desperately to justify what happened to me. … I wasn’t charged with anything,” Chamu alleged. “They picked me up off the side of the road for no reason — that is not OK.”

Audrey McNamara is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @McNamaraAud.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the ASUC signatories were Senators. In fact, they are all Senators-elect.