Update 12/17/14: This article has been updated to reflect information from Mayor Tom Bates and UC Berkeley alumnus Kyle McCoy.
Participants in a scheduled march protesting police killings of unarmed black men converged to speak at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, and many criticized the city for its response to ongoing protests that erupted in Berkeley on Dec. 6.
After a meeting was canceled last week over concerns about exceeding the council chamber’s capacity, the council convened for two back-to-back meetings in Longfellow Middle School’s auditorium, which allowed for a larger number of guests.
Although the organizations By Any Means Necessary, or BAMN, and Copwatch had planned demonstrations, many members who had planned to meet at Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue prior to the meeting as part of the BAMN march instead went directly to Longfellow. About 125 attendees were present at the two meetings.
During the public comment period of the meeting, community members voiced their opinions on police action during recent protests and shared personal grievances with the Berkeley Police Department and other police organizations nationwide.
“A lot of people have compared what happened on Dec. 6 to being like a warzone,” said Stefan Elgstrand, a recent UC Berkeley graduate who attended the meeting. “But I don’t think that’s necessarily an accurate thing to say, because under international treaties, tear gas is banned in warfare.”
Although Elgstrand said he is grateful City Council is listening to the public now, he condemned the council for delaying last week’s meeting and said he feels as if the city has failed the protesters.
Yvette Felarca, a member of BAMN, said during public comment window that the grand jury decision to not indict Darren Wilson has undermined the credibility of the nation’s justice system and has put every local municipality, government and police force under scrutiny.
Former UC Berkeley student Kyle McCoy, who was arrested the night of Dec. 6., also spoke during the public comment window. McCoy said that the mayor and the council were not addressing the issue quickly enough, because the next meeting is a month away, and that there should have been a high-ranking representative of BPD present.
In response to police action against protesters Dec. 6, Mayor Tom Bates said he thinks tear gas shouldn’t be ruled out but should be a last resort, used only under “dire” circumstances.
“You don’t want to tie the hands of the police with tactics that they hopefully wont have to use, but you don’t want to say upfront that you can’t do this or you can’t do that,” Bates said.
Mansour Id-Deen, president of the Berkeley branch of the NAACP, requested during public comment that the council pressure BPD to move forward with implementing the fair and impartial policing policy that was passed unanimously in June.
Bates proposed holding a special council meeting Jan. 17 with an expert panel present to discuss the issues. He said holding it in January would allow for more students to attend it after their winter break.