The protesters at the downtown Berkeley Post Office who had been camping on site to fight the proposed sale of the building have left the area, but the official account from police has been disputed by some involved activists.
A statement posted on the Berkeley Post Office Defense website said its encampment was “raided” at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday “by a combination of Postal Police and Berkeley PD (directly subverting the will of the citizens of Berkeley).” According to the statement, a rally was planned for the morning, and a general assembly meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m.
According to a post by a community member on the group’s Facebook page, “The details are the occupants were told they would be arrested after they received notice of trespass…. So most of them vacated the site yesterday, while 4 remained.”
Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats said Thursday afternoon that local officers have been working with U.S. Postal Service police “handing out warning fliers” to let activists know they could be arrested for trespassing on the property if they refused to leave.
She said “they decided to leave on their own” Wednesday night.
Coats said via email at about 4:15 p.m. Thursday that “It is my understanding the few people that were there last night left on their own. BPD went and collected what appeared to be abandoned property. Anyone that was there was left alone along with any property that was being claimed. The property that was collected has been booked for safekeeping. There were no arrests associated with the clearing of the property.”
No further information was available from police.
Activists tell a different story
Some activists involved with the post office protest said the Berkeley Police Department is not telling the whole story. They said authorities came in while many of the protesters were attending another event in Oakland, and made arrests and confiscated property.
A poster on the Save the Berkeley Post Office Facebook page wrote that she went by the post office at 11:40 a.m. Thursday to check her mail, “and I saw that the US Postal Police are all over the place and there were pressure hoses, and the tents and tables of the Save the Post Office encampment are gone.”
A 1:10 p.m. Thursday, someone using the “Berkeley Post Office Defense” handle posted on Indybay that, starting Wednesday night at 7, “Berkeley Police removed the tents of the Berkeley Post Office camp and threw them into large trucks. The camp was on its 33rd day of a direct defense in opposition to the sale of the Post Office. People’s belongings were confiscated without warning by about 20 cops and the signs were taken down. There were two arrests before the raid began.”
According to a post on Facebook by Mindy Stone on Wednesday night, “tonight was extremely sad. early in the day Sandy was hosting the info table at the Save the Berkeley Post Office Occupation…today was day 30! later we went to a Trayvon Martin rally in Oakland and while we had a great time participating in the event we had no idea the Berkeley cops were raiding our encampment and throwing all our belongings in the city dump truck. What scums the US Postal Service thugs and the Berkeley PD are! Last night we were freaked thinking they were going to raid w/ cops swarming all night…they raided during business hours at 7 p.m. Some of our homeless folks holding things down lost their belongings too. Very upsetting.”
JP Massar wrote on Twitter that the tents and possessions of all the campers were “confiscated” and another Twitter user, mary mad, wrote also that “arrests were made.”
Wrote Twitter user abpaine, “The officials were tearing the place down. Throwing stuff in open bed truck.” She also noted that she “Saw few people there beyond police. Group of police surrounded someone in wheelchair. Know no more.”
City manager memo outlines safety concerns
Following an Aug. 23 letter from Berkeley Postmaster Ray Davis, asking Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan for help dealing with the encampment at the post office, Berkeley city manager Christine Daniel sent a memo, dated Aug. 26, to the Berkeley City Council outlining a range of safety problems that had allegedly taken place on or near the site since Aug. 10.
Daniel wrote that “criminal activity has continued and escalated” since the beginning of the occupation, noting a “physical assault, several arrests for weapons possession and a serious dog bite.” She said local businesses had reported problems with harassment, and that Berkeley High classes were scheduled to resume Wednesday.
Alleged criminal activities or public safety issues on site included a stabbing Aug. 15; a woman masturbating at the post office Aug. 16; a juvenile found with an 8.5-inch concealed knife Aug. 19; and a man who brandished a 17-inch billy club at a nearby business Aug. 21.
Also on Aug. 21, a member of the camp got into an altercation with a passer-by; the passer-by’s dog allegedly bit off a large section of the camper’s hand, according to the memo. He was taken to the hospital for treatment.
On Aug. 25, someone causing a disturbance in front of the post office at 8:15 a.m. reportedly refused to leave the area when asked. Four assailants punched and dragged the victim across the street to Berkeley High; one of them slammed the victim’s head into the sidewalk. The victim suffered lacerations to his face and head and was taken to the hospital for treatment. Police contacted two people inside a large tent at Allston and Milvia. One was arrested on a no-bail parole warrant for failing to register as a sex offender. The memo said a warrant is being sought for the second man, who is on county probation for assault with a deadly weapon.
“The City encourages the community to exercise their First Amendment rights,” wrote Daniel. “However, activities must be conducted in [a] manner that ensures everyone is safe.”
Postal inspector says safety is the main concern
U.S. Postal Inspection Service spokesman Jeff Fitch said officers from his organization and the Berkeley Police have been meeting individually with protesters to let them know it was time to “pack it up and move it along.” Monday night, he said, police handed out formal notices citing the federal and state penal code violations that would make the activists subject to arrest.
From the beginning of the occupation, about a month ago, Fitch said safety has been his agency’s main concern. Recently, he said, campers had been using trash cans inside the post office as a restroom, and that other people had climbed up onto the roof, with pet dogs and alcohol, and had begun camping there. Fitch said activities like that were of great concern as far as the safety of postal service employees, customers and the campers themselves.
Monday, he said, Postal Service and Berkeley police again let the campers know they were subject to arrest if they stayed on site. But he added that he wasn’t sure what prompted the group to leave Wednesday evening. He said the Berkeley Police Department would have more information on what had transpired.
Fitch said Postal Service officers will remain on scene to maintain security and continue to monitor the situation.
This developing story was updated throughout the afternoon as more information became available.
Postal Commission rejects Berkeley mayor’s appeal (08.28.13)
Protester stabbed in thigh at Berkeley Post Office camp (08.16.13)
Feds agree to hear mayor’s plea to halt post office sale (08.12.13)
U.S. Post Office erects fence at Berkeley’s Elmwood site (08.09.13)
Berkeley post office protesters decline to move (08.06.13)
Protesters told to leave steps of Berkeley post office (08.03.13)
Protesters stage a sleep-in to save the Berkeley post office (07.29.13)
Locals, city fight on to stop sale of post office (07.19.13)
Berkeley’s political firmament rallies for post office (05.03.13)
Post Office to sell its downtown Berkeley building (04.22.13)
Developer eyes Berkeley’s historic post office (08.01.12)
Chances are slim of saving Berkeley post office (07.23.12)
Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.