Short pieces

Five days in December 2014

by Daniel Borgström

This may be what a Homeland Security takeover looks like, as experienced in Berkeley last December when out-of-town riot police moved in and commandeered a residential street for use as their staging area. City officials stepped back, allowing them to do it. That was during the nationwide protests against police impunity in Ferguson and Staten Island as well as locally here in the Bay Area. Nightly demonstrations took place in Berkeley, some evenings involving 1,000 to 3,000 people.

There are numerous articles, reports, testimonies, videos and photos of those demonstrations. What's received less attention -- none at all from the corporate media -- was the seizure and lockdown of the 2100 block of McKinley Avenue, a residential street near the Berkeley police station.

"It all began on Friday, December 5," a McKinley Avenue resident wrote in an email to city officials, "when we woke up to find posted outside our front door 'NO PARKING / TOW AWAY' signs for a '
SPECIAL EVENT' that would begin at noon on Saturday [December 6]."

These mysterious signs left some folks thinking they'd missed an invite to a block party. One woman, out of curiosity, went to the police station and asked about it, but the officer on duty didn't know. So she asked a parking enforcement officer. Same answer. At the permit office they didn't know either. Likewise at Planning, and then at Parks. Finally she encountered a secretary who'd seen an email explaining that "it was necessary because of planned demonstrations."

The 2100 block of McKinley Avenue, the neighborhood which was about to experience this "special event," is a quiet, middle class residential street lined with well kept homes, some of them Victorian. Although it's the street behind the Berkeley City Hall and police station, it is nevertheless fairly isolated from the hustle-bustle of the nearby downtown. The block is rather secluded, but handy and strategically located. The signs were also posted on nearby cross streets.

Saturday came. Cars belonging to residents were towed. Hundreds of militarized riot police from Hayward, San Mateo, Fairfield, and Dublin as well as from other cities and agencies descended upon the neighborhood. They moved in, set up barricades at both ends of the 2100 block and used it for their staging area, their base camp. The residents were ID'd as they attempted to enter the area or even walk on the sidewalk outside their houses. "Keep your hands out of your pockets!" the out-of-towners would yell at them.

The "robo-cops," as McKinley Avenue residents called them, made themselves quite at home, freely littering the street and sidewalk with wrappers, cups, pizza boxes, and partly eaten food, leaving it for the unhappy residents to clean up. The "special event" had begun.

appealed to city officials. One wrote in an email: "we have been living in an armed camp after dark. Our block has been barricaded at both ends each night, with police officers requiring identification from residents. [. . . . . .] It was as if they were afraid that I was a suicide bomber. For four nights there have been armored vehicles covered with robo-cops who sit with motors running, glaring at us if we leave our houses. Ranks of robo-cops actually marching, then later high fives and laughter as they debrief on the sidewalk outside our living room. . . ."

"We were subjected to a complete nightly lockdown for five nights. We were denied access and egress via our cars except for one entry early in the evening. We were barricaded in and couldn't drive in or out." wrote Robin McDonnell in a formal
complaint to the Berkeley Police Review Commission which, along with other statements and emails to city officials, was presented at a PRC hearing on Jan 14, 2015.

People living on nearby cross streets were also affected. A resident of Addison Street wrote, "My street was blocked off, and police officers refused to let me pass the barricade to walk home, even when I offered to show ID to prove I lived there. I wound up spending an entire week walking in a big circle each night to creep up the end of Addison where fewer officers were."

"Am I going to get shot?" One McKinley resident wondered when police screamed at her, ordering her to halt.

Nevertheless, as invasions go, it was relatively benign, certainly nothing like the U.S. Army bringing freedom and democracy to some village in Afghanistan. None of the McKinley residents was shot, clubbed, tear gassed, or arrested, not even when they expressed dissatisfaction. For example, one evening when the robo-cops were especially noisy and a group of neighbors got together and asked them to be more quiet, the police didn't get violent, they merely glared at the residents as though they were being disloyal.

The McKinley residents had previously enjoyed good relations with the Berkeley Police Department (BPD), and the style of this invasion was quite a surprise. Now they suddenly found themselves being treated to a modified version of Stop&Frisk by cops they didn't know. They tried to contact their BPD liaison person, Ms. Stephanie Polizziani. One resident wrote: "Dear Stephanie, After thirty years of being a neighbor to the Berkeley Police Department, I was shocked and saddened to see how bad your department's relations with its immediate neighbors are." Another resident, in a similar tone, reminded the liaison person, "My family has always been supportive and cooperative with the local police."

The BPD did not respond. Commenting on the official silence, a resident wrote, "Our neighborhood actually has a liaison person, Polizziani, who is supposed to take care of our concerns [. . .] We not only heard nothing, we continue to hear nothing." The resident listed some of the abuse and insults he and his neighbors had endured, calling the situation "a foul and ironic echo of the sort of treatment being protested each night."

Still another, also writing to city officials, said, "This is all totally unacceptable and unfortunately a little view into the disrespect police departments seem to have for their citizens. I believe this is what the protests are actually about."

That was the situation in Berkeley during that second week of December 2014. The out-of-town robo-cops had absolute, total, uncontested lockdown control of the 2100 block of McKinley. The Berkeley cops had seemingly ceded control to the outsiders. The rest of the city's officialdom also seemed to withdraw from the picture.

It was during those five days in December that Mayor Tom Bates took the unusual step of canceling a city council meeting, that of Tuesday, December 9. That was ostensibly to avoid overflow and possibly disruptive crowds. Instead of the scheduled council meeting,
Mayor Bates held an invite-only news conference. Even some of the council members were excluded, locked out. None of that is the way things are normally done in Berkeley.

There was also the wild night of December 6, the evening the out-of-towners showed up and seized McKinley. Riot police attacked protesters. Live-stream videos showed police using tear gas in residential areas, and KTVU ran a video of an officer clubbing a news photographer with a baton. The Daily Kos posted an article titled "
Berkeley Witnesses a Police Riot," and the Society of Professional Journalists wrote the city a letter protesting that a number of reporters were struck despite clearly displaying press credentials.

One might think that with all those militarized riot police in town, the entire city would've been reduced to a state of dead quiet, that even the mice would be trembling in their holes, perhaps leaving Berkeley for good. Actually, quite to the contrary, each evening over a thousand protesters continued to gather near the university campus, then march down to the I 80 freeway, and shut it down. Many of the stranded motorists on the freeway cheered the protesters. The protest against police impunity was a popular cause with wide support.

Despite their blustering abusiveness, the riot police seemed rather inept, more effective at stirring things up than at quieting anything down.

Then, after five days, the local Berkeley police suddenly reappeared to McKinley Avenue residents.
Captain Andrew Greenwood met with them on December 11th, introduced himself as their new BPD contact person, and apologized profusely for the department's abandonment of them and expressed a determination to set things right. "We totally fell short on communicating to you guys what was going on and why," Greenwood reportedly told them. He also explained his view of what had happened, that the department was overwhelmed by the unprecedented magnitude of the demonstrations, which he said were "historical in terms of size and scope."

So it appears that the BPD was rendered dysfunctional by a couple thousand of mostly peaceful protesters. The city council was likewise forced to cancel a meeting due of an overflow crowd. Clearly, it doesn't take much to throw Berkeley into a state of confusion and paralysis. Really? Or could there be some other explanation?

In the weeks that followed, the Berkeley City Council responded to the general outrage by holding public sessions where dozens of eyewitnesses to police actions on December 6 and the following days were heard. Proposals to improve police behavior were presented and some were approved. So something was accomplished.

Nevertheless, nothing has been said or asked about the role that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may have played. When the city council signed on to agreements with DHS between 2011 and 2013, some people warned that it would be tantamount to giving DHS formal permission to step in and take over local police and city government whenever it chose to. That warning was dismissed as paranoid fantasy and ignored at the time, but such a takeover is precisely what appears to have happened here in Berkeley for five days last December.


This article is also at

*** *** ***


PDF of formal complaints and emails from McKinley Ave residents -- the Berkeley Police Review Commission hearing of Jan 14, 2015

Residents present complaints at Police Review Commission hearing of Jan 14, 2015
Daily Californian, Jan 17, 2015

Mayor Tom Bates cancels council meeting and holds an invite-only news conference on
SF Chronicle, Dec 10, 2014

The Society of Professional Journalists' letter to the city concerning police attacks on journalists
Dec 8, 2014

Berkeley Witnesses a Police Riot.
Daily Kos, Sun Dec 07, 2014

Neighbors complain about Berkeley Police commandeering their street
Berkeley Side, December 15, 2014

Residents air concerns about police staging to Police Review Commission
Berkeley Side, January 15, 2015

Berkeley's partnership with Homeland Security
Daily Californian, October 20, 2013

Copwatch Reportback from the Berkeley Protest of December 8th, 2014
by Andrea Prichett for Berkeley Copwatch

Fusing California
by Tracy Rosenberg on July 9th, 2014

Tracy Rosenberg on UASIs and Fusion Centers.
The role of Urban Area Security Initiatives (UASIs) in providing Department of Homeland Security funds to the regional and local governments.

Too nice to impeach

The Democrats are such nice people, and it was especially nice of them to express gentle forgiveness for the high crimes and misdemeanors of Bush&Co. Good start, I say, and as long as they're in this balmy mood of kindness to criminals, they should also go ahead and free all the serial killers, rapists and other violent offenders. After all, common criminals are far less dangerous to society than the Bush team.

Daniel Borgström
November 16, 2006

Daddy will pay

Guess who's going to pay the cost of rebuilding the Gaza electricity plant that the Israelis bombed? We, the U.S. tax payers, will be paying it because the power station was insured by a U.S. government agency, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz (7/2/2006). Well, that's what daddies are for--to pay the bill when junior goes out and breaks windows. Or, maybe it's about time we Americans wake up to the fact that we're supporting a full-blown, hardcore juvenile delinquent.

Daniel Borgström
July 14, 2006

Tips of the icecaps

CRITICS OVERREACTED when they stopped the sale of U.S. ports to the United Arab Emirates. No harm would've come to us from the deal because we have already created a foolproof safety factor — global warming. It would've gone like this: We sell the ports, the UAE takes over and the terrorists move in. Meanwhile, the polar icecaps melt, the oceans rise about 20 feet, the ports get inundated, and the terrorists there drown.

Daniel Borgström
April 2, 2006

RE: Dick Cheney's quail hunting accident

I like guns, I hate gun control and I firmly believe in defending the Second Amendment, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights. But I do concede that there are some fools out there who should never under any circumstances be allowed to handle firearms -- or nuclear weapons either.

Daniel Borgström
February 16, 2006

Judge Samuel Alito

Samuel Alito is really slick, like a bar of soap on a bathroom floor. He'd be a great defense lawyer; and if I were in Jack Abramoff's shoes, Alito would be my first choice. As it is, it looks like Alito will be confirmed for the Supreme Court. No question about his qualifications, Alito will be a justice who can work the US Constitution and fit it to Bush's fancy.

Daniel Borgström
January 10, 2006

Democratic enablers

A few days ago the Democratic National Committee mailed me a "Grassroots Survey." It was a multiple choice questionnaire with insufficient options. Within the framework offered, there was no way to express my real responses. Moreover, for the most part, they failed to ask the real questions -- which suggests that they don't want to hear my real opinions on issues such as:

The War in Iraq. Over 2000 dead GIs. Cuts in veterans benefits. Supreme Court nominations. Globalization. Torture. The stealing of the 2004 election. Impeachment of Bush & Cheney.

Bush and Cheney have messed up so badly that only the Democrats can save them, and I truly fear they will. The Democratic leadership seems to live in absolute denial of reality, and that was reflected in their "Grassroots Survey."

Daniel Borgström
November 15, 2005

Hi Daniel,

You hit it right on target -- the Dems don't want to talk about the things that are really important to us. Did I ever tell you that before the Gray Davis recall election I phoned the California Dem Party office, and asked them what they planned to do to fight the recall. They turned it around and told me it was up to me (and the public) to figure out what to do, and of course I should send them money. It was infuriating. Also, before the last presidential election's primary I contacted Kerry and Edward's campaigns and asked them about their position on global warming (would they sign the Kyoto Protocol) and about their plan to get out of Iraq. I was told to look at their websites (I had done so already -- neither mentioned global warming or war) and was encouraged to donate money. So much for an opposition party!

Have a great UnThanksgiving,

Cathy Green
November 22, 2005
(from an email, posted with Cathy's permission)

A few days latter I received an anonymous item in the postal mail -- an envelope with no return address. Inside was a clipping of my above letter to the Oakland Tribune, "Democratic enablers," and written across it in large letters were the words: "BULLSHIT, DANNY BOY!"

Saving the filibuster & guzzling turpentine

Sometimes no bottle at all is a whole lot better than one that's half empty--especially when it's turpentine.

But when you really, really, really need a drink, then you'll guzzle whatever they hand you. And when you're really, really, really desperate for something you can hold up and call "victory," then you just have to swallow whatever they pour down your throat and try your best to smile and say "We won!"

On May 23rd the Democrats "saved" the filibuster by compromising far too much. I sure hope this isn't the way the Democrats intend to "save" Social Security.

Daniel Borgström
June 4, 2005