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.
When 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.