While police and public officials got ready to cut the ribbon of the new $20 million Public Safety Building Monday, some 20 citizens rallied against both the building and the police.
It was a study in contrasts with outgoing City Manager Jim Keene dedicating the building to the memory of peace officers fallen in the line of duty and protesters, under the aegis of Berkeley Copwatch, a citizens’ police watch organization, making a visual statement about the number of citizens killed by police.
“This building is here so that when disaster strikes, we’ll be better able to save lives in the community,” Keene said, as he dedicated the building to Police Officer Ronald Tsukamoto and Sergeant Jimmie Rutledge.
The new facility, paid for with Measure G disaster-prevention bond funds, replaces the old Hall of Justice which is not earthquake safe.
The protesters say the funds are not well spent. In order to build a new Public Safety Building, rather than replacing the old unsafe Hall of Justice, the city had to go before a judge to get the expenditure approved under Measure G.
Holding signs beside a black and white “stolen lives” diorama covered with the names of people, whom Copwatch says, were killed by the police, protesters characterized the new building as a testament to the mismanagement of funds by the city and a slap in the face to the democratic process. “My school leaks,” said Berkeley Adult School teacher Jennifer Knight. “They could have spent this money on housing subsidies, or to fix our schools and to pay our teachers.”
“They’re not telling anyone that this is a big jail,” said Copwatch co-founder Andrea Pritchett.
Keene responded to the protesters’ complaints. “This will replace the old, unsafe Hall of Justice,” he said. “If you were in jail, it would be much better to be in here. This is a much better environment for the public.”
Police Chief Dash Butler said that the building will also be used to hold community meetings.
“This building is not only user friendly, but neighborhood friendly,” he said.
During the dedication, Butler spoke through a megaphone because the public address system wasn’t working. There was joking in the audience of mostly protesters and city employees, about Copwatch lending the city their public address system.
Before the dedication, Pritchett pointed to the 170-foot police and fire communications tower that adjoins the new building and asked if it was for “protecting the people.”
“With whom are they communicating,” she asked. “This thing is not about policing at all. It’s about surveillance and intelligence gathering.”
Protester Marsha Fiendling said that the space where the building stands used to be the home of the Berkeley and Oakland support services for the homeless. “(Homeless people) have been basically disenfranchised by this building,” she said.
One woman, who claimed that minorities and women are profiled by the police, exposed her breasts and challenged the police to arrest her for “having breasts.”
Pritchett and Copwatch demanded independent civilian monitoring of the jail, proportionate funding and independent counsel for the Police Review Commission, an end to racial profiling by the police and better public access to police records.
“The city has become very protective of its information,” Pritchett said. “They’re not required to give us (certain) police reports, but its not prohibited.”
She said her organization has been experiencing problems getting information from the police since they began tracking the use of pepper spray by the police.
“Being the home of free speech and all, they should let us view them,” she said.
Police Captain Doug Hambleton said that the police don’t allow the public to view certain records that would compromise an ongoing investigation. “Basically, we’re stuck in the middle,” he said. “We just try to follow the law.”