Berkeley mayor must explicitly call out racial disparity in policing

CITY AFFAIRS: City Council punted on two major Berkeley police reform items at its Tuesday meeting.

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Kelly Baird/Staff

City Council was set to consider three major Berkeley police reform items at its meeting Tuesday. At the 11th hour, Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Councilmember Sophie Hahn submitted alternatives that diluted language the original proposal.

A direct acknowledgement of “racial disparity” was wiped entirely from a proposal that would force Berkeley Police Department to track “yield rates” for police stops in order to determine any “disparate racial treatment.”

The hypocrisy from the mayor here is unbelievable. Back in 2014 before his mayorship, Arreguín said regarding a new “fair and impartial policing” training program to reduce racial bias that “Berkeley is a progressive community, but for decades we’ve heard of black and brown people being the subject of racial profiling.”

This wasn’t the only bad move on the part of City Council.

Another proposal would have asked for the creation of language for a ballot measure to amend the city charter to strengthen the Police Review Commission, a more than 40-year-old institution that has yet to undergo serious structural changes.

The removal of commitment to a charter amendment ballot measure was as “offensive” as working to remove a reference to racial disparities, said Councilmember Kriss Worthington — a sponsor of all of the original proposals — in an email. “We cannot have most important PRC reforms unless the voters get to vote on it.”

To be exceptionally clear: The items that Worthington first proposed are what this city needs to work to repair a broken relationship between the police and many members of this community.

City Council ended up tabling these two proposals, only approving the third police-related proposal to reform BPD’s use of force policy to increase reporting requirements in confrontations between police officers and residents that involvie physical force.

Since becoming mayor, Arreguín has become sluggish in his commitment to improving oversight and accountability of police. So far during his tenure, City Council has failed to roll back Urban Shield and passed broad ordinances awarding police more power to regulate protests. He even backed an ordinance allowing more judicious use of pepper spray ahead of planned alt-right rallies in the city.

In an interview with The Daily Californian’s editorial board, Arreguín justified his decision by saying the police “have exercised enormous restraint in these events, and I can assure you if I wasn’t the mayor of Berkeley, they would have used a lot more force.”

Arreguín came to power on the votes of those who long-opposed former mayor Tom Bates’ opaque and obtuse leadership. Bates frequently back-loaded agendas, leading to issues being punted to future meetings, and he rarely took community comments under consideration. Arreguín’s win felt like a strong rebuke of those tactics.

Instead, the mayor has increasingly shown a disappointing lack of urgency to enact police reforms, and a frankly stunning ability to lead long meetings most characterized by public comments that get ignored.

Under attack during Tuesday’s meeting, Arreguín claimed that he takes racism seriously because he himself has been the subject of racism. And so have many in Berkeley. Until he makes structural moves to address racial disparities in policing, and increase civilian oversight, Arreguín’s claims of solidarity will not feel substantive.

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  • lspanker

    Ever considered that the reason there may be a “racial disparity” in traffic stops, field interrogations, arrests etc. might just be because there are racial disparities in terms of who commit crimes? For example, it doesn’t seem that many Japanese-Americans get arrested in Berkeley. Is that due to unfair favoritism or discrimination on the part of the local cops, or might that just be due to the reason that not many Japanese-American residents of Berkeley commit criminal acts in the first place?

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