Berkeley Police Department is under fire after releasing the names and pictures of protesters arrested at an Aug. 5 rally where “alt-right” and “antifa,” a term for anti-fascist, groups clashed.
The arrests took place during a “No to Marxism” demonstration organized by alt-right protesters, and most of those arrested were counterprotesters. Though the BPD later took down the mugshots it posted, BPD left the names of the arrestees up on Twitter. BPD claims that it released information that is already public — information that would help increase public safety and deter crime.
“This is done not in an effort to shame, or to chill freedom of speech, but to deny lawbreakers anonymity,” read a statement from BPD.
Some activists claim that BPD targeted antifa protesters and risked the safety of those protesters. BPD posted the information on the day of the arrests, before charges were formally filed.
Andrea Prichett, a commissioner on the Police Review Commission, or PRC, expressed concerns about BPD’s actions.
“I think that the BPD may have violated not only the dignity of those in custody, but also their physical safety,” Prichett said. “This presumption of guilt is disturbing.”
Twitter users expressed anger at the release of arrestees’ information, including journalist Shane Bauer, who called it one of the many “sketchy practices” that BPD employs.
BPD spokesperson Officer Byron White denied that there was any political motivation in these arrests or in BPD’s decision to post the arrestees’ information.
“We post this information regardless of a person’s political ideology,” White said. “We don’t classify political affiliation when we make an arrest.”
In anticipation of the protest, the city of Berkeley published a list of banned items, which included potential weapons and masks. Antifa activists often wear masks to protect their identities during protests. The most common reason for arrest at the Aug. 5 rally was for possession of a banned item.
White said the intent of sharing the information on Twitter was to “educate, inform and deter crime,” not to put citizens at risk. When asked if there would have been any risk to public safety had BPD not tweeted the information, White said he did not know.
Prichett said it is not BPD’s job to “dissuade people from protesting.”
“We have laws,” Prichett said. “It’s the police’s job to enforce those laws in a fair and unbiased manner.”
The PRC will reconvene in September and plans to discuss these events. BPD has a policy stating that it “shall not deliberately expose a person in the custody of this department to representatives of the media for the purpose of being photographed or televised.”
While this policy has not been adapted to include social media exposure, Prichett said BPD’s actions seem to “violate that general order.” She noted that the policies related to public release of information have not kept up with technological advancements.
Prichett said the controversy surrounding the release of information stems less from the policies governing BPD, and more from police accountability and enforcement of those policies.
“In the current environment of doxing and general attacks by the alt-right on individuals of the community, it is especially troubling,” Prichett said.