After the last day of Berkeley High School’s Unity Week this year, two fights broke out between students near the school, leading to an alleged use of excessive force by Berkeley Police Department — an allegation that was discussed during the public comment section of Berkeley Unified School District board’s Wednesday meeting.
Ramona Coates, vice president for Equity and Inclusion for the BUSD PTA, said a student was able to break up one of the fights that broke out on the last day of Unity Week — commonly referred to as “Rally Day.” Coates alleged, however, that BPD officers arrived and used excessive force on that student, which she called “incredibly and most disturbing.”
“One of the police officers on the scene violently slammed the African American student who stopped the fight to the ground. She was handcuffed, she was arrested. She was put in a police car and taken to a police station,” Coates alleged at the meeting.
Coates alleged that BPD officers ignored the BHS police officers when trying to resolve the situation. She said at the meeting that another Black student questioned the officers’ actions, emphasizing that the student didn’t do anything wrong.
Student witnesses alleged that the officer pointed to the student and motioned for more police to come, Coates said at the meeting. While more officers started moving towards the student, two Latino students continued to question the officers’ actions but were ignored. Coates alleged that officers then took the two Latino boys by their necks and slammed them against the police car and to the ground before handcuffing and arresting them.
BPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel said three BHS students were arrested Friday on suspicion of battery, but he was not aware of allegations against officers for using excessive force on Rally Day. He added, however, that BPD does not take allegations of excessive force lightly.
“We take allegations of excessive force very seriously,” Frankel said. “If (the allegations) are made (to) internal affairs, they will be investigated.”
According to Frankel, a BHS staff member was also arrested on Rally Day on suspicion of obstructing a police officer. Coates alleged, however, that the staff member was only trying to calm the situation down.
Coates said at the meeting that the students affected by this incident are now greatly afraid of the police. Many BUSD board members expressed concern and condolences for the affected students at the meeting.
“I know that our district is going to be responding to our students and to our parents and teacher community,” said BUSD Director Beatriz Leyva-Cutler at the meeting. “I know that this (is) also very traumatic for a lot of our students and the whole community.”
Coates asked BUSD board members what their policy is on how police interact with students.
“What is the district going to do to protect our children? It is imperative that you have policies implemented for rules of engagement, de-escalation — it’s needed,” Coates said. “We also need social justice awareness week in the whole district, for every school, and (to bring) the community in to talk to our young people.”
BUSD Director Karen Hemphill said BUSD has had issues with “inappropriate police interactions” with students in the past.
Hemphill said she believes this incident needs to go on the 2×2 Committee with City Council, which consists of two council members and two Board of Education members who work “collaboratively on issues of mutual concern,” according to the city website. Hemphill added that there should be a meeting between the superintendent and the city manager to address these allegations.
“These kinds of incidents do have academic impact,” Hemphill said. “It has discipline impact and it has lifelong impacts.”