As UC Berkeley students, we have a unique experience of being immersed in a town filled with citizens passionate about local and national issues, but it’s often easy to forget all that’s going on around us when problem sets and midterms are mounting up. Here’s a quick guide to what’s going on in Berkeley:
Alt-right organizes rallies in Berkeley
Since President Donald Trump’s election, some community members have organized several weekend alt-right rallies in Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, most notably on March 4, April 15 and April 27.
The rallies were advertised as pro-Trump rallies or “Free Speech Rallies” that protested the cancellation of the scheduled Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter events. Many left-wing individuals also attended these rallies to forge a counter-protest against the alt-right, resulting in many altercations, injuries and arrests on both sides. At the April 17 rally alone, Berkeley Police Department made 20 arrests.
Another alt-right rally is scheduled to take place in Civic Center Park on Aug. 27, in the aftermath of the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia. Although some left-wing community members are planning to attend the rally to protest the alt-right, the city of Berkeley issued a press release Aug. 17 advising community members to “stay away” from the rally for their own safety.
Andrew Greenwood appointed as Berkeley’s newest police chief
On April 4, Berkeley City Council voted to appoint the formerly acting chief Andrew Greenwood as Berkeley Police Department’s newest permanent chief.
Greenwood, who has been a member of BPD for nearly 31 years, was appointed as acting chief last fall, after former chief Michael Meehan resigned suddenly amid heavy criticism from both his staff and the Berkeley community. His position as permanent police chief was effective as of April 9.
In light of recent public criticism over BPD’s reporting system, Greenwood emphasized that one goal he plans to work on during his tenure is to make BPD more open to the public. Since his appointment, he has hosted many community forums, such as “Coffee with a Cop,” which allow the public to meet with officers and discuss any concerns they have with the police department.
Berkeley launches plans to tackle homelessness
Berkeley City Council has launched several new initiatives to assist the city’s homeless community.
On July 11, the council voted unanimously to fund a hybrid option for the Pathways Project, which will provide the homeless community with permanent housing and centralized resources. The hybrid option of the project is a lower-cost than the original project plan, but is still focused on addressing homeless issues in the city. The project will fund the combined STAIR Center and Bridge Living Community and the Homeward Bound Program.
The city also installed a new public-use portable bathroom in a parking lot near Alcatraz Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Way on Aug. 4, after many community members, including a nearby homeless encampment organized by the advocacy group First They Came for the Homeless, requested it. The bathroom, which is also accessible to people with physical disabilities, was generally well-received by the homeless community because it helped increase bathroom accessibility for homeless people in the city.
Berkeley Hills Fires
A fire broke out in the Berkeley Hills at the intersection of Grizzly Peak Boulevard and Fish Ranch Road on August 2. At its peak, the fire spanned over 20-acres. Over 200 firefighters from Berkeley Fire Department, Oakland Fire Department and the Alameda County Fire Department responded to the fire.
Several campuses properties were either evacuated or closed due to the fire throughout the day, including the Berkeley Lab buildings, the Space Sciences Laboratory, the Lawrence Hall of Science, and the UC Botanical Gardens. The campus also experienced power outages due to safety concerns. Additionally, two kid’s camps in the Hills were evacuated.
The fire is currently being investigated as a potential arson, but the cause has not officially been determined.
In June, Berkeley City Council voted to renew the controversial Urban Shield program, a four-day training program for Bay Area police forces and beyond. The program has faced criticism from many community members that it promotes police militarization and racial profiling. BPD’s police chief, however, has previously argued that the training provides officers with “invaluable leadership and practical experience.”
Urban Shield includes simulations of high-pressure situations for SWAT teams and a vendor show for firearms and other policing technology sellers. After the council voted to renew Urban Shield, a crowd at the meeting broke into protests, leading to the arrest of two people involved. Moving forward, a new subcommittee will look into allegations of racialized violence and decide how to move forward with the program.