(Inti Gonzalez)

As the demand to Save People’s Park roars once again in Berkeley, there are many who may not know just how brutal the fight has been to preserve the historic community space. Here are some tips for organizing, protesting, and copwatching for protection of the park and beyond.

Useful Concepts in Organizing

Consensus: Decisions are made with affirmative yeses from all members of the group (“does everyone agree?”). This generally necessitates discussion and compromise. This is different from Consent decisions which pass as long as there is no objection.

Affinity groups: Small groups of trusted people who form a group in order to take action on an issue. These groups are able to mobilize quickly and more safely because of the relationships of trust already established.

Spokescouncil: An assembly of people from different affinity groups intended to coordinate their activities. Usually one or two people from each affinity group will attend spokescouncil meetings, allowing for a large scale of people to maintain efficient communication and decision making.

Know Your Rights

Assert your right to observe. Remember, you do not have the right to interfere, but you DO have the right to document. 

Cops are not legally allowed to take your phone without a warrant. Don’t resist physically, but don’t consent to giving your belongings to them. Use a passcode on your phone, not face ID or touch ID.

Defined by law as “conduct that poses a clear and present danger of imminent violence,” and used to describe when a demonstration or crowd event is gathering to commit a criminal act. Cops are required to make an announcement when they believe the gathering has become an “unlawful assembly.”

Police Tactics to Keep in Mind

Cops on either end of the block try to trap you inside the “kettle.” Everyone within the kettle gets arrested. Look out for this tactic by watching for police in all exit points. Police may give a dispersal order before employing this tactic. Document whether or not warning is given.

Carotid artery, wrist lock, etc. Pain compliance techniques can be used to make someone comply with officer commands, usually in the process of arrest.

Currently, Berkeley Police are not allowed to use tear gas on protesters. However, this is not the case in many Bay Area cities—such as Oakland and San Francisco. The Berkeley City Manager has the power to issue an emergency order allowing it for a limited time.Outside agencies may also attempt to use it. Be prepared for its use. Dress in clothing that covers most of your skin and that can be discarded if needed.

Copwatching at a Protest

You don’t want footage that can be used to prosecute protesters. Keep your camera focused on police behavior. Some protesters become agitated when their actions are recorded. Be aware.

Be aware of what you say while you are recording. Your commentary can influence the way that people and juries perceive what is happening in the video, and swearing and yelling may bias a jury against the person you are hoping to protect.

Date and time stamp footage while you are filming, or say it on tape. Record location identifiers such as street signs.

For your footage to be useful in court, it will have to be unedited and cannot be “anonymously” presented into evidence. This means, if the video footage is used in court, the videographer will need to testify that they recorded the video and it happened where and where they say it happened.

As a way to stay safe, have a partner to work with at protests. It is helpful to have someone watching “the big picture” while you are focused on recording so that you can move quickly if the situation changes and police are approaching. 

What to Document

• Detailed description of police misconduct (verbal abuse, wrongful arrest, excessive force, number of officers and vehicles, departments present). Note failure to warn, refusal to allow dispersal, etc.

• Name and affinity group of the victim(s) if possible.

• Witnesses’ names, addresses, emails, and phone numbers (including other videographers)

• Officer’s name, rank, department, and badge number. Note the commanding officer. California law (PC 830.10) requires all uniformed police to have their name or badge number visible.

• Are body cams on? Look for a small green or red light (red means it’s recording).

• Which police equipment/weapons were used and how? Describe or document them. For example, protesters drenched with pepper spray, tear gas canisters fired at persons (rather than onto the street), horses or vehicles running into people, etc.

• License plate, police agency (ex: UCPD, Berkeley Police), and ID number of police vehicles, as well as private cars moving through the demonstration that are being used by police.

• Statements made by police (particularly commanding officers) and civil officials. Whether orders or warnings were audible and/or understandable.

• Routes taken by demonstrators and police. RECORD THE TIME AND STREET frequently. This is important for creating a framework for the footage and evidence after the protest is over.

• Remember to buddy up, stay safe, and assert your rights!

Get active. Be aware. Refuse to be abused. 

Berkeley Copwatch is an all-volunteer organization with the goal to reduce police violence through direct observation and holding police accountable for their actions. Formed in 1990, they seek to educate the public about their rights, police conduct in the Berkeley community and issues related to the role of police in our society at large. For more information visit www.berkeleycopwatch.org.