‘Hold their feet to the fire’: Berkeley residents rally for policing alternative

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Eliana Marcu/Staff
More than 100 Berkeley community members gathered for a rally organized by Berkeley Copwatch. During the event, organizers introduced a five-point list of demands for Berkeley City Council pushing for alternatives to certain policing methods.

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“We who believe in freedom cannot rest.” The words rang out as a chorus of more than 100 community members gathered on the birthday of a Black transgender woman who died in police custody in Berkeley eight years ago.

In 2013, Kayla Moore died in police custody after Berkeley Police Department officers responded for a mental health wellness check. Eight years later, residents celebrated her life by marching through Berkeley’s streets and calling for changes to the city’s policing.

The demonstration was organized by Berkeley Copwatch, a group formed in 1990 to “empower and unite the community to resist police abuse,” and took place at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.

“Last July, after thousands and thousands marched in the streets demanding justice, our council voted — they have a goal to defund BPD by 50%,” said Andrea Pritchett, founder of Berkeley Copwatch, at the event. “Brothers and sisters, we are here today to hold their feet to the fire.”

After a handful of speeches from local leaders and activists, the crowd began to march down Martin Luther King Jr. Way, led by a drum line and banner bearing the words “Care Not Cops.”

During the rally, speakers emphasized the fears that people of color have to live with, particularly when it comes to interacting with police officers and other law enforcement. For Berkeley resident Modi Long, one of her worst nightmares involved an officer pulling her son out of his car.

“We know that Black men in Berkeley are more likely to be stopped or have force used against them,” Pritchett said during the event. “When we think about Adam Toledo, or Daunte Wright or George Floyd, don’t think that’s everywhere else, it’s right here.”

In July 2020, Berkeley City Council voted for the creation of a specialized care unit, or SCU, that would be a first-response alternative to police designed to handle noncriminal emergencies and mental health calls, according to speakers at the event. Organizers of the event unveiled a five-point list of demands for Berkeley City Council aiming to strengthen and expand the program.

The demands include making the SCU completely independent from BPD both functionally and financially, as well as ensuring community input and transparency in its creation. Additionally, the list of demands calls for the defunding of BPD to fund long-term community care programs.

“In our minds, justice means that no one will ever suffer when they call out for help,” Pritchett said during the event. “We want people with training and compassion to be the first responders.”

Contact Matt Brown at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @maattttbrown .