Mayor Arreguín, mid-scold

Mayor Scolds Uppity Police Critic

As many readers may know, "Public Comment" is those portions of City Council meetings when Council members are able to take a few minutes to catch up on emails and texts, chat among themselves, visit the restroom, and enjoy the fine snacks laid out in the private antechamber. Of course, some of the more hardy Council members use this opportunity to pretend to listen to the regular citizens who line up to speak. For their part, the speakers return the favor by pretending that what they say to Council might make a damn bit of difference.

After decades of this arrangement, the conceit that Public Comment is meaningful engagement falls flat and so when the Mayor announced in only his 7th month of office that he intended to promote "civility, respect and decorum" - many assumed he meant he'd try to improve how Council respects the speakers.

A ruckus arose at last Tuesday's City Council meeting (October 30, 2018) when a rather observant Mr. J. P. Massar rose to register two related complaints about the annual crime report, a presentation of which Council and the public had just received.

The crime report itself was unsurprising and generally good news as these things go: crime in most categories is at least slightly down. In spite of too many shooting incidents, not a single homicide so far this year.

Yet something was missing from the report. Back in 2017 Council had directed staff and the police to include statistics that may help to identify racial bias in policing. Complaining of a lack of time, the police now say that report will be delivered in late March of 2019.

With just the 60 seconds initially allotted him, Citizen Massar spoke to council and first he sensibly complained that City Staff had failed to meet a Council-ordered deadline. After all, staff had a full a year to prepare the missing report. Yet, whatever the report's eventual findings, it is almost certain to spark controversy. In that sense, the delay until after the election appears to be a bit convenient.

"Something's wrong," explained Massar. "It's disrespect to the Council and it's disrespect to the People who are expecting these things to be done." He received a smattering of applause.

Massar went on to question claims that the police and City staff lacked the time to complete the report. Turning towards the table where the police chief sat, Massar continued "You spent hours and hours and hours tweeting away on social media, on August 5th, doxxing people". {doxxing}

At that point the Mayor interrupted. "Thank you. Thank you very much," he said just before the buzzer rang. This is the Mayor's way of trying to usher speakers off the stage. (Massar had in fact only gotten 55 of of 60 seconds but who's counting, right?)

It was not-so-fast for the Mayor, though. Up to four people may, if they choose, donate their own minute of comment to someone else. As is the custom, Massar turned to the audience and held up one finger (a polite finger) - asking for the donation of an additional minute.

"NEXT SPEAKER PLEASE," the Mayor raising his voice. In reply, a voice from the room donated another minute to Massar. The Mayor hadn't had his full say, though, and how he continued was remarkable:

"Let's please, let's please not attack the police department." Jesse was starting to sound a bit plaintive.

The normally poker faced Massar drew back, aghast and for a moment he and the Mayor talked over one another.

"If you can be constructive with your comments..." continued the Mayor, making up a new rule on the fly.

"I will attack the police department when I want to!" Massar rebutted, accurately.

"Let's have some civility," tried the Mayor, vaguely. This whole Public Comment thing wasn't going as he'd hoped.

"I think I've been very civil!" retorted Massar. "I haven't said anything disrespectful. How can you suggest that I said anything disrespectful? It's the truth that they spent hours and hours and hours and hours sitting, tweeting, doxxing people when they should, in most people's opinion, in the City of Berkeley, they should not have been doing that. And here they are standing before you and complaining about the time that they don't have. That's all I want to say. Thank you."

To the Mayor's evident chagrin, most of the speakers had been critical of the police. The final speaker after Massar was more of the same - she cited her experience working with homeless people to assert that there are particular officers, some known by name, who are abusive and racially biased. She's heard from homeless people who have experiences like being taken away by the police and, when asked what they were being arrested for, were told "we'll think of something later".

There being nobody else lined up to speak, the Mayor granted himself the floor to get in one last dig at the public. Turning to the Chief, "While it certainly wasn't stated by many of the speakers, I appreciate the work the police department does."

The Mayor then went on to gush over the police for nearly a full six minutes, at two points casually insulting constituents and speakers some more. "I know that for myself and the people I represent, I appreciate the work this department does."

The Mayor had indeed promoted "civility, respect and decorum" just for some more than others.

Endnotes

{doxxing}

the police doxxing incident

On August 5th, 2018, a far right group convened a rally in Downtown Berkeley and so, as is customary, anti-fascists organized a counter-protest.

The Berkeley police, apparently tired of being portrayed as soft on anti-fascism by the right wing press, arrested a number of anti-fascists (none of whom was ever charged with a crime), gathered up their mug shots, names, and the cities in which they reside, and took to social media to show off their catch. This practice, known as doxxing, exposes those arrested to harassment including threats of violence and death.

It was later exposed that the police merely wanted to, in their words, "change the narrative".


top of page

Copyright (C) 2018 Thomas Lord