In Berkeley Standing Up For Your Right to Sit Down may be a crime, and it becomes a crime if a cop says it is.
In this case, the police incident was just the latest in a series of continuing crackdowns, since a two-man telegraph foot/bike patrol set out to "set parameters, and establish protocols." Most street kids understand: they cooperate.
Carol Denney is no street kid. She went to the streets Sunday, as one last protest against Measure S, which would ban sitting (even on chairs) on sidewalks in commercial districts She got a ticket (BMC ch.14.48.020, obstructing foot traffic) for sitting on Teley.
You could say Denney, of “Failure to Disperse," an acoustic road show band, the event organizer, sat down for her right to sit down at Telegraph and Haste performing music
She was first asked to move, then was cited for obstructing the sidewalk. At first it seemed Denney, would, implausibly, comply with officers’ requests, but then she got that satiric gleam in her eye, and said, "You know what, I’m taking that ticket. Cite me."
The police just give out the tickets and write the incident report—a district attorney decides whether to charge. Denney was not detained after she was cited.
At one time, two Berkeley police officers and a shift supervisor went into action against the musicians.
Next door to the protest, and in the empty lot where the Berkeley Inn used to be, volunteers were cleaning and repairing the 1996 "Let a Thousand Parks Bloom," mural. They widened the grates of the heavy iron fence to get onto the property. We haven't yet asked the owner of the lot whether they had permission. And who cares anyway? Not the cops.
A man behind a small table who was passing out Oscar Grant Coalition information (which accuses Oakland police of murder) was warned (obstruction) but not cited, he told me, because he had convinced police he had the right to distribute his info.
We have seen officers watching from across the street as sitting-ban protesters lay in the street. But that was last year, before the crackdown.
Osha Neumann, Berkeley's acclaimed muralist (co-credit, world-renowned Peoples Park mural) and civil liberties attorney could not get the officers to back down. His famous mural was behind him as he spoke with police on behalf of the demonstrators' civil liberties..
There were jeers from a crowd which had gathered, saying, "there was no crowd until the cops came" In fact, I have some photos corroborating their observation.
Nevertheless, it's the cop's call anywhere but Berkeley where disrespecting cops is the local sport .
I talked, later in the evening, to one of the three officers in the crackdown. She said that she commutes daily from the South Bay and loves working in Berkeley. She said the bust earlier in the day, was just routine. "You've seen us out regularly writing people up," she said.
And I have.
By evening Denney was saying that we have Officer Cole to thank for demonstrating so beautifully today that the police don't need any new laws. When they want to shut down a constitutionally protected demonstration or target a well-known activist, any law, creatively used, will do.
That's just what they do.