BERKELEY -- The couple wanted a private moment to talk away from their kids. So they got into their car parked in front of their south Berkeley home.

But a police officer driving by interrupted the conversation, asking the black couple what they were doing.

Mama Ayanna Mashama, speaking May 10 at a Berkeley NAACP town hall meeting on "Berkeley Police -- Power and Abuse," contends she and her husband were racially profiled.

"Seriously, just sitting on the street, parked, talking in the dark because we wanted to talk about something we didn't want the kids to hear," Mashama told the standing room only crowd of more than 100 people at the South Berkeley Library.

The experiences attendees shared for the most part were not high-profile incidents that make headlines. Rather, the discussion was about incidents so common, one person said, that people get used to them -- incidents where police routinely stop, question, search then release African Americans and Latinos.

While speakers alleged these stops are examples of racial profiling, that's difficult to prove. In Berkeley, if there's no arrest, there's no record of pedestrian stops.

Implementing a policy where police record every stop, including the apparent gender, race and ethnicity of the individual, would be a step toward ending racial profiling, Berkeley NAACP President Mansour Id-Deen told town hall attendees.


Advertisement

"This policy will give pause for any officer that just wants to arbitrarily stop someone," Id-Deen said. If they stop you, they're going to have to report it."

Berkeley police worked with the NAACP, the Berkeley/North Eastbay ACLU, the city's Peace and Justice Commission and a Police Review Commission subcommittee to craft such a policy.

But police withdrew formal support just before the policy went to the full Police Review Commission, which approved it unanimously.

In a separate interview, Capt. Cynthia Harris said police want the policy and have begun training in conjunction with it.

However, "As we went through the policy, I realized that I had done all this consultation with these external sources, but had not done any consultation with any internal sources -- the Berkeley Police Association, the Black Police Association and the Women's Police Association," Harris said.

"It will be part of policy," she added, though she could not say when.

Councilman Jesse Arreguin told the town hall, "We can't wait a year or two years." He will ask the City Council on June 3, to ask staff to prioritize the policy.

Ken Jones was among a number of speakers sharing experiences they considered racial profiling.

While driving in South Berkeley, police, without badges and in an unmarked car, stopped and handcuffed Jones.

"They asked me if there were any drugs in the car and what do I know about a homicide that happened on Milvia Street some time ago," he said. "They ran all of my information. Everything came back straight. And it was like, 'We're gonna go; you have a nice day.'"

Others spoke about police interrogation of minors without their parents, detention of a black Berkeley High student for jaywalking, but not the white student accompanying him, frequent stops while walking to Ashby BART and more.

UC Berkeley graduate LaTasha Pollard, 22, described a May 2 arrest now viewed more than 9,000 times on YouTube.

The incident began with a friend's arrest which she filmed, she said, omitting some details on the advice of an attorney.

"After a few minutes of filming, one of the officers actually attacked me, slammed me on the ground," she said.

"The next thing I know three officers are on my back pulling my arms behind my head and trying to cuff me without telling me why I'm being arrested. It was a very traumatic experience for me."

The YouTube video, shot by another witness, shows police telling Pollard numerous times to move onto the sidewalk; she complies only after an officer takes her arm and forces her to move back.

A few minutes later, the video shows Pollard standing on the sidewalk, appearing startled and screaming as if in pain as three police officers grab her, take her to the ground to handcuff her.

Lt. Andrew Greenwood, interviewed at police headquarters, said the initial arrest was for "a pedestrian violation of walking against the red light and almost causing a collision" around 10:15 p.m. at Dwight Way and Dana Street.

An officer witnessing the violation attempted to speak to the group, who walked away, Greenwood said. Their refusal to respond provoked the arrest and deprived the group of the opportunity to, perhaps, get a simple warning, he said.

Pollard's subsequent arrest as she stood on the sidewalk appears to viewers of the video to come from nowhere, but Greenwood explained that Pollard was arrested for her earlier refusal to move onto the sidewalk.

It's up to officers to determine the safe distance away from an arrest for observers and whether to arrest a person not obeying police commands, Greenwood said. A Berkeley Copwatch flyer distributed at the town hall contends observers can stand anywhere as long as they don't interfere with the arrest.

In the video, the group blames the arrests for "walking while black."

Asked to comment, Greenwood said this group was not racially profiled.

"I think I can understand people in the community's concerns about ... racial profiling," he said. "We understand what 'walking while black' means. We're sensitive to that. But should we ask our officers to not stop somebody because of the way they look?"

---