The Berkeley Police Review Commission discussed the trial of several protesters from Liberty City — a homeless occupation previously in front of the Berkeley Main Post Office — on Wednesday.
Originally, the commission had scheduled to hear the complaints of Liberty City members because three individuals are facing charges for trespassing. The commission item was moved to a later meeting, however, because Berkeley Police Department Capt. Andrew Greenwood was issued a subpoena in relation to the misdemeanor jury trial and felt it was inappropriate to talk about an ongoing criminal case.
According to Commissioner Alison Bernstein, a former public defender, the District Attorney’s Office does not usually prosecute trespassers. The majority of the commission found that it was not in the city’s interest to bring the trial to court. Several other members of the PRC, however, expressed concerns regarding the intentions of the arrested individuals who are pushing for a court hearing.
“Criminal court should not be a place where political issues are resolved,” Bernstein said.
During the meeting, Commissioner Kad Smith voiced his concern about a possible trial becoming more of a political cause than a legal dispute. Similarly, Commissioner Ayelet Waldman questioned whether it was the PRC’s responsibility to take a stance on court trials.
“If we say we have to wait and find out what the wishes of defendants are, then we’re letting those people influence and control what stance we take,” said Commissioner George Lippman. “We are supposed to take a stance on what we think is right.”
Lippman also said that according to the commission’s General Order, all things related to law enforcement in the Berkeley area fall under its purview.
The commission moved to inform Berkeley City Council of its intent to send a letter to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, stating that the three Liberty City members facing charges for trespassing should not be prosecuted and that the case should be dismissed.
“We would like to have the Police Review Commission deal with the First Amendment issues we’ve raised,” said Guy “Mike” Lee, Berkeley mayoral candidate and a member of the homeless community.
Mike Zint, a homeless organizer and one of the individuals facing charges, said in an email that the police considered what Lee calls a “first amendment occupation” an “encampment,” which then makes Liberty City applicable to an illegal lodging charge.
“There is no equal protection under the law,” Zint said in an email. “This is part of why we occupied. I also want this charge to challenge it in court.”
BPD Chief Michael Meehan also presented the Chief of Police’s Report at the meeting. The report detailed that the city has not increased funds for projects such as body cameras for officers and that there has been an increase in violent crimes this year.
The next PRC meeting will be May 11.