Page One

We Came in Peace: City Staff Banned us from Building

Moni T. Law, Nanci Armstrong-Temple, Tom Luce,Kyla Whitmore
Saturday July 30, 2016 - 10:00:00 AM
These Berkeleyans were in the group of ten whose entry into Berkeley's city administration building was barred by city employees during business hours last week. L to R: Moni T. Law, Tom Luce, Kyla Whitmore, Nanci Armstrong-Temple
These Berkeleyans were in the group of ten whose entry into Berkeley's city administration building was barred by city employees during business hours last week. L to R: Moni T. Law, Tom Luce, Kyla Whitmore, Nanci Armstrong-Temple

A few Berkeley citizens met a guy named "Justice" recently on the steps of the city's government building. Ironically, we were ten peaceful residents participating in a BlackLivesMatter inspired gathering who were banned from entering the building. We were forced to talk with Justice outside on the steps. On Thursday, July 21, 2016, we experienced a shocking lock down of the City of Berkeley's Administration building on Milvia Avenue. We were a small group of ten people comprised of a faith leader, Cal students, Cal alumni and a new Bay Area resident. On a National Day of Action called by groups concerned about Black and Brown lives, a small group decided to create a Berkeley event for Black Lives.  

We wanted to follow up on a Berkeley City Council meeting from two days prior when the Council recessed for summer vacation without addressing public accountability for livable wages, housing development and police reform. We were extremely disappointed that members of Cal Berkeley's Black Student Union and others were granted only one minute to speak after waiting until almost 11:30 pm. As the students were speaking, Mayor Tom Bates stood up and left. At least the other council members remained when we asked "Don't Black Lives Matter?" 

We discovered that a special meeting can be called either by the Mayor or five council members. We planned to meet on Thursday in an effort to petition for a special meeting to finish urgent business on passing a minimum wage ordinance, making developers accountable and reforming a 43 year old Police Review Commission. Although our city formed the first PRC in the nation, we will not be able to have it updated and reformed until 2018 if the City Council fails to call a special meeting.  

As we gathered in the Civic Center Park behind the City Administration Building before our meeting time, four of us grew to seven people, and two more individuals joined us as we walked to the front of the City Hall building. We found it odd and unsettling that someone decided to lock down the back of the building, and police officers were posted in the back and front of the building. As we approached the front doors of the building at 2pm, we were suddenly told by three high ranking city officials that the council members' staff confirming our appointment was not enough, so Councilmembers Arreguin and Worthington came outside and told the door keepers that we were approved with an appointment. Then the posted 'security' staff would not let us in because there were allegedly no rooms available. Almost two hours later after the booked rooms were continually cancelled, a councilman aide showed us that he confirmed a conference room. However, 8 of our 10 people had to leave as it was approaching 4pm. 

We want to thank Councilmember Susan Wengraf for talking with us outside in the parking lot, Lori Droste for speaking with us briefly in the parking lot and being willing to listen (but we couldn't get inside to discuss in depth as we planned to do), Councilmember Max Anderson speaking with us on the phone in support, and Councilmembers Arreguin and Worthington coming outside to the cold steps to speak with us in an effort to get us inside for our scheduled meeting. 

Again, on this day of National Solidarity for Black Lives, it was disappointing that the city of Berkeley, a city that we love and cherish was harsh, rude and unwelcoming. Our reasonable and simple demands were printed on a handout. The city's response was excessive, resulting in the wrongful exclusion of peaceful citizens from accessing The People's House. The City's actions chilled the exercise of freedom of speech, and denied a productive conversation from occurring for advancement of the common good. The City will hopefully learn to recalibrate their response when they can clearly see that a small group of people seeking to 'sit in' and communicate with their council members during scheduled appointments is not a threat to the city's business, but instead is the heart and soul of the city's business. Indeed, according to the city's website, "The residents of Berkeley are the highest level in the City's organization chart." "Berkeley Residents" is printed in large, bold letters at the top of the chart -- above the council, mayor and City Manager. Unfortunately, we were pushed to the bottom of the council's meeting agenda (for the third time on the PRC reform issue) and to the outdoor steps. Increased security protocols should not block citizens from being able to engage in their government's business.


Moni T. Law, J.D.
Berkeley resident, UC Berkeley Alum


Nanci Armstrong-Temple 

Candidate, Berkeley City Council District 2; UC Berkeley Alum 


Tom Luce 

Liaison, Berkeley Fellowship 

of Unitarian Universalists 


Kyla Whitmore 

New Berkeley Resident 

Intern at local nonprofit