by Andrea Prichett, Berkeley Copwatch
Along with family members of Kayla (Xavier) Moore, Berkeley Copwatch has been trying to investigate the Feb. 13, 2013, death of Kayla Moore in police custody. We are troubled to see that Berkeley police officers are not only keeping track of us and our activities with regard to Kayla’s death, they are attempting to intimidate us.
We don’t expect that BPD officers are capable of conducting their own impartial investigation into Kayla’s death or into the way BPD officers interact with mentally ill people, but we would hope that they would not interfere with our efforts to understand what happened on Feb. 13 and how it could be prevented with another person in mental health crisis. We have had a series of actions and meetings over the past few months, and the police presence is becoming increasingly hostile.
At our first event, on April 17, 2013, there was only a small police presence and we were able to have our rally and march without incident. The event was peaceful and many new people heard about the case for the first time. We also took the opportunity to serve the BPD with a Public Records Act request for the police report.
Later, we went to the Police Review Commission – which is moribund at this point – but commissioners were unwilling to even read the police report from Kayla’s death. During PRC meetings, commissioners look apologetically at us because the PRC officer and the city attorney have bullied them out of challenging police power and functioning for the purpose of police review.
The PRC has lost whatever credibility it once had and it has been taken over by a biased and privileged pro-police faction. The PRC’s aversion to investigating police behaviors, actions and practices is in violation of the very ordinance which established civilian oversight in Berkeley. We do NOT have effective, reliable police review in Berkeley.
We had hoped that the Berkeley City Council proposal to establish May as Mental Health Month would allow us to deepen the conversation about Kayla Moore’s death and the City’s involvement and response to it. We were shocked, however, at the April 30 City Council meeting by Councilmember Tom Bates’ incredible disrespect to Kayla’s family members who came to speak that night, including Bates’ rude interruption of Kayla’s brother-in-law in mid-sentence.
Even more disturbing was the menacing police presence during the public comment period. At one point, officers leapt from the door near the podium and grabbed one of Kayla’s family members simply because he was speaking at the mic despite Mayor Bates’ interruption.
Officers grabbed the family member, Carl, and began pushing the waiting speakers away in order to force him from the room. This unnecessary escalation and blatant display of intimidation toward the rest of us happened right in front of the City Council.
You can see that Berkeley Police Sgt. Cardoza and Officer Brown, who were part of the group that “restrained” Kayla Moore the night she died in custody, were the ones manhandling members of Kayla’s family at the City Council meeting. If their televised thuggery at a public meeting is any indication, it should make all of us wonder how Cardoza and Brown “handled” Kayla the night of her death.
Most recently, our event “Cops or Counselors?” at the East Bay Media Center on May 30 was attended by a BPD officer. We found the police presence disrespectful, yet did not want to further disrupt the meeting by making a scene with the officer.
I first asked him to leave and he refused. Again, I asked him if he would be willing to leave as a courtesy to people who may feel hesitant to share if they knew an officer was in the room; again he refused. I told him that I would be willing to make a video for him of the presentations, without the community conversation following, but he said the event was open to the public and he wasn’t leaving.
We chose to proceed with our educational event about how police brutality is being visited upon our people and is referred to as “mental health services.” The possibility of not having police respond to mental health calls at all was a very exciting topic of discussion. It is long past time for us to refigure how we think of mental health and its relation to the police.
During presentations by mental health professionals and sensitive sharing by Kayla’s family members about their own findings and investigations, we discovered that the officer was recording. I asked him not to do that. He feigned an apology and was later seen recording again.
The Berkeley police and city officials are creating a “chilling effect” on the public discourse. We’ve had several mental health professionals tell us that they would like to be a part of our efforts, but they are afraid to be seen at a gathering that is or might later be seen as critical of the police because it could cost them their agency’s funding.
This kind of police intimidation is repression, and we demand that the Berkeley City Council direct its police chief to stop the harassment. If we can’t have an honest conversation about how police operate in Berkeley and if people can’t speak freely when we work together to solve problems, then the dual farces of a) free speech and b) professional policing should be laid to rest as a part of Berkeley history once and for all.
Andrea Prichett, a Berkeley resident and founding member of Berkeley Copwatch, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.