Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Berkeley helicopter nights, Part I

After four nights of helicopters over Berkeley, tonight the fog brought silence. I have been glued to Twitter and live streams most of those evenings, finally venturing out to join part of a march last night against police killings.

I hope to write more about the stories that stick with me most from the past several days. Here is the first.


Todd Zimmer. (December 7, 2014). Berkeley Cops Beat Protestors 12/6/2014 #BlackLivesMatter

The words of Todd Zimmer and nearby protestors, as they were being pushed backwards by police on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, stuck with me as queries and lessons for all of us:
“Use your words.” “That is totally unnecessary.” “You're just attacking people. For no reason.” [Calling individuals by their names.] “Why do you do this?” “Why are you hitting us? We’re not attacking you.” “Do you see anybody beating you?” “That was an unprovoked attack.” “You’re not in danger in any way. We are in danger from you.” “What’s your problem?” “What are you doing?” “You’re not in combat. We can’t back up farther.” “Who do you protect?” “People can’t back up, because there’s obstacles behind us.” “They’re aggressive to the point of absurdity.” “Can you identify yourself?”

Sunday morning at Strawberry Creek Meeting, there were many moving messages about the protests, and the injustices that motivated them. I found myself reflecting on this video, and how hard it is not to get stuck in opposition when people all around you are saying the same thing over and over. While I would never choose to carry a weapon or practice physical violence, I’m sure there are times when my own actions back people up into confrontation.

What came to me in meeting was that my white privilege, and the Quaker practice of “answering to that of God in everyone”, make me the kind of person who might be able to reach out and talk to police as human beings. Maybe even to give them a way out of confrontation. If Todd (who I don’t know) can do this in a peaceful way while walking backwards and filming a video, surely I can find opportunities to do so. Yes, I’m afraid of police in riot gear. But I don’t live in fear of them every day of my life. And that means I can take action in ways that many others cannot.

On the way home from meeting, I tested this possibility. I saw two officers in uniform, leaning against a black-and-white patrol car. So I took a deep breath and walked up to them and said this: “Hey, I don’t know if you were out on the streets last night, but I just want to acknowledge that it must be hard to just stay human when a lot of people are yelling at you. I want to encourage you to take care of yourselves in your own lives in ways that help you stay human on the job.” They smiled, thanked me, chatted a little, and I went on my way. Not so hard for me to do.

I would love to hear of other efforts to help give the police a way out. Out of confrontation. Out of escalation. Out of militarization. And what action can each of us take?