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RESIST: The Empire Strikes Back

by Christina A. DiEdoardo

Resist columnist Christina DiEdoardo argued against lifting the ban on use of pepper spray by the Berkeley Police Department in this screengrab from last week's City Council meeting. Photo: Rafael Kadaris/Christina DiEdoardo
Resist columnist Christina DiEdoardo argued against lifting the ban on use of pepper spray by the Berkeley Police Department in this screengrab from last week's City Council meeting. Photo: Rafael Kadaris/Christina DiEdoardo  

Every action spurs an equal and opposite reaction, so recent moves by the city of Berkeley to criminalize dissent are far from surprising.

At a special (i.e., one set at short notice at 3 p.m. on a weekday to make it harder for those most affected to attend) meeting Tuesday, September 12, the Berkeley City Council took up Mayor Jesse Arreguin's proposal to loosen a 1997 "ban" on the use of pepper spray for crowd control by the Berkeley Police Department.

I put the word "ban" in quotes because, despite the wording of BPD General Order U-2, all Berkeley cops carry pepper spray. Moreover, since 2012 BPD officers have used pepper spray, notwithstanding the policy, three times a year on average, according to police records.

In his written submission to the council requesting the ban be lifted, Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood was curiously silent about the fascists, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists, many of whom admitted to smuggling in banned weapons at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. Indeed, despite Kyle "Based Stickman" Chapman (so named for his tendency to threaten and attack anti-fascists with large sticks) facing felony weapons charges arising out of one of the Battles of Berkeley, to the chief, Chapman and his fellow ideological travelers are "people engaging in free speech activities," evidently whether or not they carry weapons.

Greenwood sees antifa and the Black Bloc very differently, referring to both as "masked extremists" and - at the Fourth Battle of Berkeley August 27 - of being "a large well-coordinated armed group."

I was with both antifa and the Black Bloc and - unlike Greenwood's BPD officers, who fled the scene after placing Patriot Prayer organizer Joey Gibson in protective custody - stayed for most of the day. Neither antifa nor the Bloc displayed any weapons that I could see.

Indeed, because the police abandoned the area (and the people they were sworn to protect) antifa and the Black Bloc were asked to provide security for a march led by W. Kamau Bell and others from Civic Center Park to Ohlone Park from small groups of fascists, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists at large in the city. Thanks to their efforts, the march arrived at Ohlone Park without incident.

Sadly, facts can be inconvenient things to both police leaders, like Greenwood, and the politicians they serve, like Arreguin. Not content with demanding that antifa be declared a criminal gang, as he did after the August 27 action, Arreguin backed BPD's plan to resume the use of pepper spray, with the heavy implication that it would only be deployed against antifa and the Bloc, rather than the fascists, neo-Nazis, and White supremacists they oppose.

Despite the short notice of the meeting, the council chambers were packed and public commentary ran approximately 25-1 against the measure. When it came time for me to speak, I said, "Not only is this change in policy obnoxious, it is also ineffective. When we [antifa and the Bloc] go out, we take our lives in our hands. Your pepper spray will not stop us."

The measure passed 6-3. While Arreguin claimed the change meant the cops would only use pepper spray against "violent" protesters, experience shows that the last six months has shown how little the BPD's judgment can be trusted.

In many ways, the effort to criminalize antifa and the Black Bloc is a sign of the weakness of the alt-right, particularly after events in Charlottesville, Virginia; Boston; San Francisco; and Berkeley. If the fascists can't march or organize without massive police intervention on their side, it strips away what little facade remains of the concept that police are neutral objective enforcers of criminal laws. In Berkeley, they have chosen a side - and the resistance moves into a new phase.

Stay tuned, and keep your pepper spray antidote (a water sports bottle with one-half water, one-half Milk of Magnesia) ready.

Courage Campaign billboard drive
The Courage Campaign is trying to raise funds to erect billboards calling on Congress to impeach President Donald Trump. To donate visit, https://secure.actblue.com/donate/impeachbillboard.

No Hate in the Bay
From noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, September 23 at 63rd and Adeline streets in Berkeley, a coalition of groups ranging from the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 57 to the Arab Resource and Organizing Center to the San Francisco chapter of the National Lawyers Guild to the Brown Berets will conduct "No Hate in the Bay: March Against White Supremacy." The event is free and intended to be a kickoff to resisting a series of fascist speakers scheduled to appear at UC Berkeley next week.

Got a tip? Email me at mailto:christina@diedoardolaw.com.

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