by Carol Denney
[dropcap]A[/dropcap] small, quiet crowd gathered near Center Street and Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley on Sunday, October 7, watching a group of artists sketch and fill in a large chalk representation of “The Last Supper,” a painting by Leonardo da Vinci of Jesus eating at a table with his disciples. Across the top was the statement, “Let Us Sit Together and Break Bread.”
It was a colorful, visual protest against the proposed anti-sitting law, Measure S, which is on Berkeley’s ballot in the coming election. But nobody had to know much about politics to appreciate the work of the patient, talented artists slowly bringing a work of art to life. The fact that this detailed work of chalk would be washed away in a matter of days either by maintenance workers or the elements added to its beauty.
A young woman stood nearby watching in quiet awe. The artists were swift and sure in their movements. They had marked the brick plaza into segments to help keep the perspective true as they turned a small photograph of the painting into the large, color-filled mural, measuring 35 feet by 25 feet.
The young woman angled herself discretely behind the working artists, who moved constantly from a standing position to their knees, working sometimes with their fingers to blend the colors to create flesh tones and folds of fabric. She wasn’t drinking, she wasn’t smoking, she wasn’t saying a word. She was standing, watching, smiling in admiration like the rest of us.
Officer Keene, badge #145, singled her out of the crowd and instructed her to relocate closer to him. She did. He began scribbling details on a form, and she stood quietly near him, distressed but compliant. A couple of us moved closer to make sure she was okay.
The officer instructed her to take off her jacket, although the day was cold and her blouse was sleeveless. She did. He told her to move her belongings two more feet closer to him. She did. He raised his voice as he ordered her around and inspected her things. Her thin arms were shaking, but she complied with all of his brusque, officious, overly loud, somewhat angry instructions.
He then told the whole crowd, loudly, that the woman was on probation, and continued to describe her legal situation in a gratuitously loud fashion. I finally spoke up, asking why he was making an announcement to the whole crowd about her private business. He just kept talking loudly, telling me he wasn’t talking to me, but making sure everyone there could hear what he said to her.
The website of the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) states that “BPD cannot release probation or parole status.” But this officer did exactly that in a loud voice in arguably the most public, well-traveled plaza in Berkeley. There appeared to be no reason on earth to interrupt this beautiful, peaceful moment of shared pleasure in the artwork unfolding before us.
When the officer finally left, we hugged each other. The young woman cried a little, but she was okay. I told her how strong and clear-headed she seemed, even in the middle of such a trying moment, which seemed to me to be a pointless effort to publicly humiliate her.
Others in the crowd said Officer Keene was just that way. There is no operative complaint system anymore in Berkeley, so there is little anyone can do but stand by and watch in amazed outrage.
The young woman was just glad it was over. When I complimented her on being so strong, all she said was, “Yes. You have to be.”