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Police Review Commission reviews documents on Berkeley's Black Lives Matter protests

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MAY 28, 2015

Berkeley’s police oversight committee reviewed police documents at its meeting Wednesday night as part of its ongoing investigation into police action during Berkeley’s Black Lives Matter protests in December.

The city Police Review Commission, an independent police oversight committee composed of Berkeley residents and appointed by Berkeley City Council, reviewed the nonvideo evidence — mostly documents from Berkeley Police Department — to discuss the police response to demonstrations Dec. 6, 7 and 8. The police used less-than-lethal weapons, including rubber bullets and tear gas, on the protestors.

The demonstrations were all marches by several hundred Berkeley residents and students as part of a nationwide protest against the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York, among others.

“We need you to be civilians — we need you to be just regular folks,” said Copwatch member Andrea Prichett to the commission members during public comment. “The policies, I guess, were followed (by the police) — but the wisdom wasn’t there, the leadership wasn’t there.”

City Council called for the investigation at a February meeting, and the investigation began April 22. Wednesday’s meeting was the fifth in the investigation, which plans to present recommendations and findings to City Council on Aug. 10.

Commissioners identified a sudden change in the mood of the march and police response about 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 6. According to the discussion, a group of people put on masks, the police began taking bricks, and the police deployed tear gas — all near that time. Commissioners, however, said the exact timeline is not very clear.

“In all this video and written testimony, I am not getting a narrative that makes sense to me,” said commissioner George Lippman, past chair of Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission. “It jumped off real quick.”

In addition to reviewing documents from the police, the commission will be collecting witness testimony.

Commissioners also brought up certain phrases from police strategy documents, including calls to “get (the protesters) running” and to “stretch the crowd out so they are not a mass but individuals.”

Lippman brought up that these types of strategies might threaten the freedom to peacefully assemble.

But George Perezvelez, the chair of the commission, said, “It is easier to identify someone that’s problematic in groups of one, two, three and four.”

The police department’s own report, which was initially planned to be completed and presented by city Police Chief Michael Meehan last night but was delayed, will be presented at the commission meeting June 10.

Commissioners also said they may cancel their June 3 meeting, which at least three commissioners could not attend. Only four commissioners attended this meeting, compared with seven at the commission’s May 13 meeting.

Contact Yuka Koshino at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @YukaKoshino.

MAY 31, 2015