Berkeley City Council discusses use of spit hoods by police

Maya Valluru/Staff

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Discussion of police use of spit hoods dominated Berkeley City Council’s regular meeting in Berkeley Unified School District’s boardroom on Tuesday night.

The meeting began with two proclamations, one for a Buddhist artist based in Berkeley named Anil Thapa, and another for Rosenda Thomas, a second-generation educator with more than 40 years of teaching experience. The meeting was adjourned in the memory of Jane Falk, the founder of Berkeley’s Holocaust Remembrance Day event, and Diane Woolley-Bauer, a former District 5 council member.

The council members then moved to approve the consent calendar, which was passed unanimously with a few minor adjustments. Notable on the calendar was the approval of the city’s sponsorship of an event to protest conditions for children at detention centers on the southern border of the United States.

This approval was followed by an annual report by the Mental Health Commission, presented by commission chair boona cheema. During the presentation, cheema outlined the goals for the commission in the coming years, emphasizing the commission’s focus on mental illness among unsheltered people.

“We need to get our act together around this one issue and get people the kinds of help they need so they can live the full lives that any person with a mental illness can if they have access to treatment,” cheema said at the meeting.

Following the Mental Health Commission’s annual report, Berkeley’s Commission on the Status of Women spoke before the council, asking for an independent audit of the city to be completed immediately to determine whether there is a gender pay gap in the city’s workforce. The council decided, after much deliberation, that the issue will be considered in November as a budget referral.

The meeting concluded with a discussion surrounding police use of spit hoods, which are mesh hoods that cover the face of a person who is arrested to prevent them from spitting and biting.

A group of about nine protesters attended the meeting wearing spit hoods and carrying signs urging against spit hood use. They also displayed what appeared to be photos of surgical masks, which they recommended as alternatives to spit hoods. Councilmember Cheryl Davila also donned a spit hood at one point during the meeting, emphasizing how one could experience trouble breathing as a result of the hood.

The meeting was extended, and the discussion became tense. Ultimately, all motions to amend policies on the use of spit hoods — including those proposed by the Berkeley Police Department — failed to pass during the meeting; the current law will be held in place. The law currently recommends but does not require that those who are placed in spit hoods be monitored.

Many protesters expressed anger at the use of spit hoods during the meeting.

“This is an assault on the dignity of people on the streets,” said Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist at the Wright Institute, at the meeting. “It’s a human rights abuse, and it has been called that by Amnesty International.”

Contact Lev Gordon-Feierabend at [email protected].