As part of my introduction to the police review commission, I rode with a Berkeley police commander for his duty shift. I was surprised by some very disturbing and racially biased behavior from police officers I met. A few officers made prejudiced comments about communities of color. One said a light browned-skin individual accused of a crime looked liked he would rob a bank. Another said Asians always try to find the cheapest options. The police commander himself made it clear that he didn’t like citizens lacking his experience judging his work and questioned me aggressively. In one instance, he pointed to a homeless man and asked what I wanted the officer to do to him. He suggested arresting the man although he was doing nothing illegal.
When I asked how the commander would hold officers accountable for using excessive force, such as hitting people over the head with batons, he became defensive. He took out his baton and encouraged me to hold it. Without my consent he led me through an unofficial baton training, pressuring me to perform baton strikes on him.
Attempts to address these incidents informally through the PRC went nowhere and when I became a member of the UC Student Senate I resigned from the commission. I am now another resident of Berkeley who feels uncomfortable with these officers. Sadly, I was not surprised that recently released Berkeley police statistics show -great disparity in how many Blacks and Latinos are stopped and searched compared to whites.
I was in a privileged position as a police review commissioner, but as a young Latino male I still became a victim of aggressive and intimidating police culture. So many people of color are being harassed, brutalized, detained, deported, and killed by police across the country. Silence reinforces the culture of official violence.
An opportunity to bring light to this issue is needed. We cannot rely on the Berkeley PD and other police departments to create that space for us. The beautiful aspect of social justice is that it is about uplifting our communities, and although we take some painful risks, it is a fight worth making.