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Uncategorized Tom's Town: How the Berkeley police and CHP screwed...

Tom’s Town: How the Berkeley police and CHP screwed up their response to protests


By Tom Temprano

DECEMBER 12, 2014 – It’s incredible what a difference a week makes as the movement against racial injustice and police violence in Ferguson and New York grows here in the Bay Area and throughout the country.

48hillstomstownWhen I sat down to write my column last week, Berkeley was still a couple days away from seeing its first Black Lives Matter action. Only a handful of days later, it has become the site of some of the West Coast’s biggest and most media-covered protests, complete with a full shutdown of I-580 and press mentions on everything from Fox News to PBS.

I went out to Berkeley on Monday night to march in solidarity with protesters there and to see what was driving the escalation of these actions — and two things were abundantly clear. The first was just how many UC Berkeley students were involved. At 28, I felt like a grandpa marching through the streets amid a sea of undergrads, many of whom had been drawn out of their rooms by chants of “out of the dorms and into the streets.”

The second was how much the instances of grotesque force by the Berkeley Police Department at previous night’s marches was fueling the size of the crowd and the passion of the protesters. Every person in the streets seemed particularly pissed at the local police as they marched toward the Berkeley Police Station and with good reason – from the minister whose head was split open by a police baton on Saturday to the protesters and journalists hit with everything from teargas to beanbags on Sunday, the Berkeley PD seems to be doing everything it possibly can to galvanize protesters.

It’s worth noting that both Oakland and San Francisco have seen sizeable Ferguson protests and that, unlike Berkeley, the police response in both cities has been largely well-behaved. Perhaps it’s because Oakland is still smarting from the $5.4 million that was awarded to Occupy protester and Iraq veteran Scott Olsen and doesn’t want to risk another high-profile (and high dollar) incident. Perhaps it’s because the SFPD has been sued into exhibiting best practices after decades of high-profile lawsuits from protesters. Regardless, Berkeley appears to be picking up the slack and pissing off enough protesters for all three cities.


Somehow, Bay Area law enforcement agencies seem unable to fathom why using excessive force and brutal tactics against scores of people protesting exactly that might backfire. Case in point the undercover CHP officer who aggressively pointed his gun at protesters and journalists on Wednesday evening in Oakland. The images of the officer (who at this time hasn’t been identified nor has the CHP had anything to say about) have gone viral, largely because he pointed his gun directly at Reuters photographer Noah Berger who had been covering Wednesday’s march.

There are a couple important takeaways from this incident:

1. The California Highway Patrol has undercover officers. Perhaps it’s because I don’t spend a lot of time on our state’s freeways — but has ANYONE ever seen an undercover CHP officer? Did they even exist prior to Wednesday night? Do they actually exist at all? Their sudden (and aggressive) emergence certainly has me wondering if there wasn’t some collaboration and deliberate attempts to have them do some of the OPD’s dirty work.

2. Don’t point a gun at a journalist. This ought to be in the first chapter of How To Police a Protest For Dummies. Protests are held largely to draw media attention and, fortunately for the police, the media usually comes down on the side of the authorities and paints protestors as lawless vandals. I’ve never done it before but I bet a real quick way to get someone who would be on your side off of it would be TO POINT A FUCKING GUN AT THEM. I mean, seriously. Look at this picture. The officer is pointing the gun at the face of a man who is quite obviously holding up and using a professional camera. Couple this with the incident where a Chronicle photographer was struck by a Berkeley Police officers baton, prompting an angry (and vaguely threatening) response from the Chron’s managing editor, and I’d say the police are about to have a real media problem on their hands – which is good news for protesters.

#STORMAGEDDON touched down in the Bay Area early Thursday morning and flooded roadways, left tens of thousands (including yours truly) without power and generally inconvenienced residents in a way that weather rarely does in California. That said, the storm’s bark (or at least all the barking about which hashtag should be adopted to describe it – take that #hellastorm, #deathstorm14 and the infinitely boring #BayAreaStorm) appears to be far worse than its bite. Even though #STORMAGEDDON may have ended up being more of a #GENTLEDOWNPOURAGEDDON (credit to Laura Thomas for that one) here in San Francisco, I’ll be sad when our only real weather of 2014 is behind us.

MOVIE TIME: Birdman. This is the segment in my column that is supposed to most directly drive home the fact that Tom’s Town is a cheeky ripoff of Willie Brown’s Willies World column. Problem is, Willie Brown seems to have all the time in the world to watch new (oftentimes questionable) movies and I somehow find myself with none — so this segment rarely makes it in.

Fortunately, I’ve managed to make it into a theatre this week and just so happened to see the movie that is getting all the early award show love, Birdman. Michael Keaton, who is basically playing a caricature of himself, is absolutely phenomenal in a deeply complicated lead role, but can’t help but be outshined by the amazing cast of women (Emma Stone, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough) around him. The movie is a bit of a roller coaster – you laugh, you cry you cover your eyes uncomfortably – and the ending is the best part.  Do yourself a favor and see it before it’s out of theaters.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


  1. I’ve stopped reading the Chronicle a long time ago, but it doesn’t surprise me that the Chronicle would find the one or two people who would say something like that. That’s exactly what I’m talking about when I talk about media distortion. From what I’ve seen, that sentiment is not typical at all, but leave it to corporate media to elicit that from someone and magnify it.

  2. Greg, I’m not the one here who is constantly complaining about this and that. I think life is pretty good. You’re the one who wants to turn society upside down to over-compensate for something you lost and left behind thousands of miles away.

  3. Yeah, Greg’s hatred of police is pathological. He has posted on other websites about it as well. He’s obsessed, and his background can only partly explain it

  4. Greg, did you miss the chronicle article this week-end which cites black protesters complaining about the white interlopers? And saying that this should be led by black voices?

    See, it’s causing divisions and schisms. Folks who are truly post-racial like me would never engage in anything that pits one race against another.

    Excessive race card playing IS racist.

  5. Yet you still can’t cite one city that has a tank. Which city has a tank Greg? Name ONE.

    That same article said that police departments got machine guns too. I’ve never seen an SFPD officer with an M60 ready to lay down cover fire against gang bangers. Or LAPD with a 50 caliber blazing away on Florence Blvd. Have you?

    Berkeleyside posted photos as actual proof of vandalism. Indybay listed the stores busted up by the black bloc (and anarchists acknowledged the destruction and approved of it). Did Fox News or that Time article show a picture of an M1 driving down Market Street? Or a Sherman in Times Square?

    I don’t read Fox News because it’s the conservative version of progressives. All ideology, hyperbole, fear mongering, and BS with no facts.

    Sam –

    Greg knows the difference between an armored car and a tank. Reread his initial post. He says cops are getting APCs AND tanks. He’s just throwing up more of his anti-cop BS.

  6. Sounds like you’re as happy in your marriage as you are in other aspects of your life. Ever stop to think that the problem is you and not everybody else?

  7. These protests are bringing different races together. Even KSFO’s reporting last night admitted that the demographics of last night’s protest in Oakland look like the Bay Area. That was my experience as well. Like I said, you don’t have to be black to understand injustice. You just have to be human.

  8. Greg, I think what some police forces are getting are armored police carrier, which would be useful if, say, the police came under an armed attack. They’re not tanks as such, but more like one of these that Santa Cruz just got:

    Ironically a major need for such vehicles is protests like the one you appear to support, where the police themselves are the target

  9. And yet the coverage of the press is so different when sports fans riot. KPFA called out the Chronicle for making excuses for the Giants fans rioting in the Mission, calling them “over-exuberant celebrating fans” or some such nonsense, while at the same time treating political protesters as dangerous terrorists.

    …even though the Giants riots involved violence and shooting.

  10. No police department ever got a tank? Really? Why did FOX say this then?
    “Getting a tank or military aircraft requires a small amount of extra work — authorities need to fill out a one-page request form, specifying if they prefer the vehicle with wheels or tank tracks.
    Delivery can take up to 14 days.”

    I used conservative sources like Time, Reason, and FOX because a conservative like yourself would be more likely to believe them, and because these sources are extremely deferential to LE, so if they’re reporting it…

    As for the black block stuff, I never claimed that it doesn’t happen. Just that the few such incidents are overblown. I didn’t see any on Monday night. I did talk to someone who witnessed the event in question, and they believe that it was the work of provocateurs.

    Finally, it’s kind of funny how you chastise any person on here who is progressive and constantly dump on progressive media sources, but you’ll cite them when you’re trying to back up your point. That’s just sad.

  11. I get it Sam but it’s still disingenuous. I went to a Niner game a while back and didn’t see any violence. Doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen and I’m not going to act like it didn’t.

  12. Mainstream media got it wrong, huh? Nice try. I got my information from those bastions of conservative thought Berkeleyside and IndyBay.
    Try reading their comments section about this vandalism and see the BS rationalizations that they use for it.

    No black bloc or protester on protester violence? But I guess in your world, the Chronicle made up these videos as part of some vast conspiracy.

    Finally, it’s kind of funny how you chastise any person on here who is moderate to conservative and say they should go back to getting their information from “Faux News”, but you’ll cite them when you’re trying to back up your point. That’s just sad.

    And I read that article. It never once said a police department actually got a tank.

  13. Mike, it is inevitable that when someone with a very strong bias observes an event, then that bias will manifest itself in the conclusions they draw. And in fact the concept of “conrimation bais” is very well established.

    So if Greg and I had both witnesses these same events, he would conclude that the protesters were peaceful and the cops were aggressive, whereas I would see the opposite.

    But even Greg admits that his observations are little more than anecdotal. clearly the vandalism, thefts and obstructions of transportation, along with some violence, have happened. They have been widely reported. Greg seeks to play that down just because he personally didn’t see any of that.

    He claims that the press only report on the bad stuff. Well, of course, because that is the news. A hundred people quietly and respectfully protesting something isn’t news, and especially not in Berkeley where someone is always protesting something.

    But when protests cross the line into wilful illegal acts, then that will be reported. And it will be stopped, because it is wrong.

  14. Women’s rights. My college girlfriend was a feminist and I went along with her to some events.

    So no, it wasn’t a Tea Party rally.

  15. Mike, I’m just talking about what I experienced. Is that the only truth there is? No, but that was my experience, my truth. I will say this much… I’ve gone to enough of these things to know that the msm often gets it wrong. Sometimes I’m sitting there thinking, “were they at the same event I was?” Black block? I didn’t see any black block at all, let alone sucker punching someone. The only employees of local businesses who interacted with the protesters Monday night were cheering us on. I’m not saying this daughter of the 7-11 owner was fake or anything, but it’s what the media chooses to focus on that makes the difference. When you spend hours at an event, and you see interactions of a completely different tone, you have to wonder why the media seeks out a type of interaction that represents a tiny minority of the experience.

    As for local police receiving tanks, this isn’t progressive paranoia. This has been covered even in conservative publications such as Time Magazine, Reason, and even FOX:

  16. No small businesses were affected or damaged by vandals? Cream didn’t need to board up its windows because they used their employees as a human shield. But talk to the owners of The Missing Link Bicycle store that had its windows broken out or the owner of Sandwich Shack who had to put out multiple fires in front of his business.Tell that to the 7-11 that got looted. But it’s a big business you say? It’s a franchise. I saw the owner’s daughter on the news the other night saying that they’re just trying to run a small business that just happens to be a franchise of a larger chain.

    You wanna talk about police violence? What about protester on protester violence like the old guy who got hit in the face with a hammer for trying to stop the looting of a T-Mobile store. Or how about the guy who lost two teeth trying to put out a garbage can fire? Or another old man who got sucker punched by one of those black bloc wussies because the old guy disagreed with him about their protest tactics?

    Also, can you please show me where a police department got a tank? Armored cars yes, but a tank? I’m really looking forward to seeing LAPD cruising down the street in an M1 Abrams with its 120 MM cannon targeting hoopdies.

  17. Pardon my nitpick on a decent piece of coverage, but, Tom, you didn’t really just write the malapropism “case and point”, did you? The common phrase is “case in point”.

  18. Thanks for covering this, Tom. Here are some of my own observations from Monday’s march:

    In contrasts to the mainstream media focus on violence and destruction, I saw not one act of violence or vandalism. The protesters were militant, angry, but peaceful.

    No one hit any of the cars that that got stuck in the crowd. No one tried to break a window. In fact I saw at least one crime prevented. Off to the side of the protest route, a bike thief with wire cutters caught the eye of some of the marchers. Immediately, several people in the crowd pounced on him (verbally), yelling “bike thief!” “get out of here you piece of shit!” and such. No violence, even against this criminal, but they succeeded in scaring him off. In the aftermath, I heard other marchers thanking the guy who first saw it, and saying to others that if anyone sees someone trying to bust into something they should call them out. Although the person will never know it, there is at least one Berkeley resident tonight who still has a bike, only because there was an anti-police protest that night.

    That’s not to say that there is never any window-breaking, but we hear plenty about that. Too much. That’s all the corporate media focuses on. They’ll take one incident, blow it out of proportion, and never show the acts of altruism like what I witnessed with my own eyes.

    Something else I want to say about the window-breaking, or lack thereof. I noticed that some businesses were preparing for the worst. Trader Joes closed their doors early. CVS put up the metal fence. Chase Manhattan and Radio Shack employees were ordered to board up their businesses. But not one local business bothered to board up. Not one. Businesses who have roots in the community are secure in the knowledge that they won’t be targeted by even the most militant of protesters.

    The police, on the other hand, were being shockingly provocative. As we approached the police station, I immediately made a bee-line toward a handicapped ramp to a building across from the station, which I figured would give me a good vantage point to see the interaction between the crowd and the line of cops that set up a barricade on the street. Indeed, from there we could see the front of the crowd and the cops. The cops were armed to the teeth and dressed in full riot gear. One protester noted what looked like a grenade launcher, though in fairness it was probably used as a tear gas canister launcher. Still, cops these days are equipped with drones, stun grenades, APCs, even tanks. This is what I’m talking about when I say that policing is no longer about crime, but rather social control. But I digress. Back to the barricades…

    With students facing the police at the barricades, the cops seemed to be looking for any excuse for a police riot. If a protester so much as touched the barricades, cops would whack them with a baton, or violently jab them in the stomach. I noticed the look of utter shock on one girl’s face as she retracted her hand after being whacked -a white girl, probably a Cal student, looked like she wasn’t used to police behaving that way toward someone like her. At one point, the guy with the grenade/tear gas canister launcher, clearly enraged by something someone yelled at him, pounced forward and aimed the launcher at the faces of the crowd, maybe a foot away. At that range, a slip of the finger would cause instant death to anyone on the other end, no matter what projectile came out of that thing.

    A second phalanx of cops came out in military formation and reinforced the lines, making the situation even more tense than it already was. People around me started talking about scoping out escape routes, because although the ramp offered a good vantage point, there was also the realization that we’d be trapped if the shit hit the fan. I noticed the zip-ties the cops were carrying… in situations of mass arrests, zip-ties are used because there aren’t enough handcuffs to arrest 1500 people. Knowing that cops often sadistically tie these zipties in ways that cut off the flow of circulation, sometimes causing permanent injury, I suddenly wished that I had studied these videos again to refresh my memory of how to deal with zipties:

    When they started to put on the gas masks, we knew that something was going to go down. As it turned out, the standoff ended anticlimactically. This was the wimpiest crowd of protesters I’ve ever seen. One tear gas volley fired in the air turned out to be enough to disperse 80% of the crowd. One African American protester tried to get the crowd to challenge the police more directly, but people weren’t exactly buying it. Even before the dispersal, I heard one guy say to another, “If nothing happens in ten minutes, I’ll walk back with you. I wish I didn’t have to study for finals, but I can’t afford to fail.”

    The man did succeed in getting the media to focus on what he was saying. And some of it was indeed powerful stuff. He talked about how he fought in this country as a marine in Iraq, and now he can’t walk down the street in his own country without the police eyeing him. He said, “…just a few minutes ago, I saw Officer [first name not heard] Jones over there -my black brother, took his baton and jabbed this black boy standing next to me so hard that… [not heard]… and for what? He wasn’t doing anything. Why don’t you [media] go over there and ask him why he did that?” For just a minute, he got the corporate media to focus on the real issues behind the protests…

    Truth is, the crowd of young students and locals was heavy with people for whom this usually isn’t a life-and-death issue; they weren’t prepared to put their bodies on the line for it, because they were, for the most part, not the kinds of people whose bodies lie in pools of blood from police bullets. I don’t necessarily blame them… I give them credit for at least coming out and making themselves aware of the issue. And I think there’s a realization that even the white middle class isn’t immune to the creeping police state. As that middle class gets squeezed more and more, police tactics are escalating, and we’re seeing more violent tactics being applied to people who never thought of themselves as targets of violent state repression in the past. Ferguson, Staten Island, etc. are wakeup calls. And unfortunately I still believe that things will get much worse before the country as a whole wakes up from its nightmare of surveillance and repression. But I’m glad that some folks are at least waking up already.

  19. You can see that in the rhetoric. Today on KQED a guy pointed out the differences between Occupy and the Tea Party.

    One side got down to business and elected people that adhered to the dogma while the other side made demands / threats and spouted ideology. Neither side gets my vote and they both are a menace. One side acted on their vision inside the confines of our republic and had great success, the other just tried to outshout, threaten and condesceningly lectured.

    This time around protestors and rioters are conflated in the “progressive” mind. Opportunism will have them making distictions when it works out for them, apologia for rioters, “you made them do it,” or listen to our rational crowd “rioters are not representative of our side.” Tom here conflating takes a stab at both in the same essay.

    The riot fringers seem to have given up on electoral politics while demanding that we adhere to their dictates, the progressives wonder off into the electoral void rationalizing away for them. A ridiculous pseudo intellectual veneer.

    If the far right is “god and guns,” the far left is “self pity and self righteousness.”

  20. The problem is that the idea of a quiet protest where one marches, chant and peacefully remonstrate appears to have gone out of fashion. Now the idea is to create damage, harm and inconvenience. And moreover since the real subject of the protest isn’t conveniently around, they pick on totally innocent commuters, residents and business owners.

    In that sense it is more like a form of terrorism where the point is not even notionally to influence public opinion and politicians, but rather to blackmail and intimidate people into doing what the protesters want.

    And of course as a society we can never allow ourselves to give in to terror tactics.

    We need to draw a clear bright line between peaceful displays of opinion and the kind of violent destructive behavior that some of these protesters are engaged in. It’s time for some zero tolerance policing.

  21. There are protestors and there are rioters. Tom conflates the two, then says that the protestors were outraged that the rioters were checked.

    He parades righteousness while calling rioters protestors.

  22. I went to some first gulf war protests and the speakers were crazy conspiracy theory kooks so I never went back after a few. I rode by some protests at city hall when Bush 2 was president and the same kooks were there along with the added non sense of the 9/11 was an inside job types.

    After I figured out all these things were hijacked by the professsional tin foil hat crowd I saw no reason to go. The authors “you made us act like this” bit is so tired.

    Richard J. Hofstadter had this crowd figured out 50 years ago.

  23. The problem of course is that these are not protests in any normal sense of the word. They are deliberate attempts to steal, damage, harm and inconvenience completely innocent people.

    And in fact the police have been very patient and tolerant. No firearms have been used and there has been only minimal use of non-lethal containment tactics. I would have expected a much more aggressive use of tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse these mobs as soon as any damage happens and/or transportation is delayed.

    It is entirely possible to protest peacefully but when these thugs step outside that imperative, then the police must be free to take any and every action to neutralize the threat.

  24. “aggressively pointed his gun…”

    Pointing a gun is always aggressive.

    There is this entitlement attitude amongst true believers that they can have their way because of their revealed knowledge, no matter what the true believers do anyone who limits this entitlement is horrible. True believers are justified in rioting and running wild, while checking that wilding destruction is “escalation.”

    It cracks me up that a protester tried to stop Toms poor wilding rioters and that poor protester got his teeth knocked out by the rioters. I guess detoothed dude was escalating things, thats what the butt stupid girl in the video on the bike was saying anyways. Escalation comes from telling Tom’s animals to stop.

    Tom reads like an apologist for Timothy McVeigh, abortion doctor killers, and 9/11 terrorists. You made us run amok!

    Some videos of Toms pals going crazy because someone escalated the situation.

  25. Of course the protest was mostly kids and students. That is what kids and students do – it’s a rite of passage. Hell, even I went on a couple of protests back in college, before I grew up.

    And of course the police are going to use aggressive tactics, if the protesters are going to block freeways rather than, you know, actually protesting, the idea of which is not to stop people getting home.

    PS – it’s not always possible to determine who is a journalist just like it’s not always possible to determine who is an undercover cop. In fact that is kinda the point of being under cover, you know?

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