“Don’t Believe the Hype,” released in 1988 by Public Enemy, still rings true today in Berkeley. Local media call the July 14 City Council decision to study and curtail police actions a victory. Black students, led by Youth Protect the Bay and a community coalition to defund the police, say otherwise.
As James Baldwin so aptly put it, “I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.” This quote could apply to the council’s refusal to approve the only concrete resolution: to defund the Berkeley Police Department by 50%. This “liberal” council would not even second a motion by one brave councilmember to censure Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood for his racist and abusive statements against protesters.
Since late May when police murdered George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murder became public, Berkeley High School’s Black students have led rallies and demonstrations in the streets. The students called for Berkeley educators and other members of the larger community to support their efforts against police violence.
The only city government member who responded to the students is District 2 City Councilmember Cheryl Davila, who crafted a real plan with timelines to immediately begin defunding BPD by 50%. A coalition of students, community organizations and anti-racist activists have coalesced around this demand.
On June 9, Black students led a militant march through Berkeley to address a special City Council meeting focused on the Black Lives Matter movement. That night, the council voted to prohibit the use of any tear gas during the COVID-19 pandemic. When media asked Berkeley Chief Greenwood what police would do to stop demonstrators if they couldn’t use tear gas, he said, “Firearms. We can shoot people.” (Berkeleyside, July 14)
Angered by Greenwood’s response, Black high school students from Oakland and Berkeley continued to organize and marched to the Berkeley Police Department on July 13. They “camped out” in front of the BPD until 11 p.m. that night to support Councilmember Davila’s resolution to defund the BPD.
People back call to defund cops
The next day, over 300 people participated in the City Council meeting either in person or via Zoom. The audience overwhelmingly backed Davila’s resolution to defund. Many people criticized the council for refusing to vote no confidence for the police chief. The council bypassed Davila’s resolution and passed a series of weaker resolutions limiting the participation of the police in traffic stops and mental health calls. However, none of the resolutions that were passed addressed the broader issues of police brutality and the cops’ systemic racism.
Berkeley’s history and reputation of being a hotbed of radical thought and action has worn thin over the past several decades of police terror and gentrification. Now its image has been further tarnished by the refusal of the Berkeley City Council to address the real issues. It is up to the Berkeley and Oakland students and the progressive anti-racist surrounding community to keep up the struggle to not only defund the police, but abolish it forever! Reach out and support at #standwithblackyouth.