Berkeleyside Op-ed: Shooters, stabbers, carjackers and tent occupants – one of these things is not like the others

Berkeley police should be spending their time chasing murderers and carjackers, not evicting people from the tents they use for shelter.

By JP Massar

JP Massar is a Berkeley activist working on issues around homelessness, privacy and unjust debt.

What’s wrong with this picture?

From headlines in local papers recently:

“Young woman stabbed; police search for suspect.”

Police hunt for armed and dangerous Berkeley suspect after homicide, stabbing.”

Berkeley police release video of armed bank robbery.

Men, girl arrested after carjacking attempt and robbery.”

Child hurt by shattered glass after Berkeley shooting.”

From eyewitness accounts Friday morning, 1/6/17:

“5 AM Jan 6 – Berkeley Police raiding First They Came for the Homeless camp now at Spruce and Rose. 34 BPD officers, 8 City workers, 13 City squad cars, 1 paddy wagon, and 4 Public Works trucks – all to evict 8 disabled, unsheltered tent occupiers.”

And from the East Bay Times 1/7/17:

City spokesman Matthai Chakko said Friday that “it takes a tremendous amount of resources” to disperse a camp.

There are things police should be doing. Arresting carjackers, searching for armed and dangerous suspected murderers and dealing with armed robbery suspects are three of them. Figuring out how to prevent or minimize such incidents is another. What the City of Berkeley’s police should not be doing is evicting homeless people – especially at 5:00 AM using large-scale operations that take ‘a tremendous amount of’ resources.

The Berkeley City Manager has lost all sense of proportion here. An autocrat who is not subject to accountability by the people or their elected representatives, she has seen fit to launch 15 raids against a single group of politically active homeless people. On the day before meteorologists predicted one of the worst rainstorms in memory she decided it was a good idea to evict and harass this same group, along with at least one other set of homeless individuals, confiscating possessions. All while on our streets we end up with victims of stabbings and children threatened by gunshots.

The end result of all this expenditure of time and effort? There are still as many homeless residents in Berkeley as there were before the raids, if not more. There is still no housing for them. The City is now potentially liable for civil lawsuit damages arising from these raids, just as happened with the Black Lives Matter protest two years ago. Berkeley is now the proud owner of yet another set of actions intended to squash dissent and political speech; actions that have operated in total disproportion to any conceivable threat.  And who knows how many crimes that could have been prevented with a sensible deployment of resources.

When 900 people sleep in doorways and bushes around town, mostly out of sight and out of mind, no one cares to care. But let a group be “in your face” about the situation of the unhoused – suddenly outrage is the order of the day and the engines of oppression rev into overdrive. Just days ago 34Berkeley Police were marshaled (more than half of an entire shift!) to demonstrate once again that the City will brook no opposition. Similar “shock and awe” displays have taken place previously. The City sends the only message it wishes to send – go to a shelter and hope that there is space, be grateful if we don’t arrest you (and if we do we’ll charge you with “lynching”), otherwise sit down and shut (tf) up.

Berkeley could do it differently. Berkeley’s homeless are not nails and Berkeley has other tools than hammers. First They Came for the Homeless has ideas on that here: Please check them out.

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