Just before 5 a.m. Tuesday, U.S. Post Office inspectors cleared the protester encampment on the steps and on the side of the downtown Berkeley Post Office. Protesters from First They Came for the Homeless and the Berkeley Post Office Defenders had occupied part of the post office property for over 17 months.
“Since November 2014 we’ve been giving out information, providing materials saying you can’t stay,” said Jeff Fitch, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. “We’ve been encouraging people to not camp there. The decision was made to come in this week and conduct the operation.”
Read more about the Berkeley Post Office.
Fitch said eight people were removed from the site and four federal misdemeanor citations were issued, for obstructing access and for not following instructions from authorized postal security officers. No arrests were made.
According to Mike Wilson, an organizer of the Post Office Defenders, protesters had been assured that they would not be removed for trespassing. He said there were five protesters at the post office overnight and a number of homeless people not associated with the protest in the garden on Milvia Street.
“What’s disturbing is that when the Post Office police showed up, they immediately attacked the protesters,” Wilson said. “Only then, after about an hour, did they go around the corner and displace the people who weren’t part of the protest and were camped in the garden.”
Fitch said that the items collected at the site will be catalogued and then be made available for collection. People removed from the site were given a phone number to arrange for the collection of their personal property.
The U.S. Postal Service announced plans to sell the building in June, 2012, and officially placed it on the market in April, 2013. Berkeley politicians were unanimous in opposition to the sale and a vocal community group, Save the Berkeley Post Office, fought to keep the building as a post office. A city lawsuit against the sale was dismissed by a federal judge in April 2015, but the judge also ruled that the USPS had to take the building off the market.
If the USPS decides to put the historic building up for sale again, it will have to give Berkeley and the National Trust for Historic Preservation (which filed a separate lawsuit) a 42-day notice, the judge ruled.
Wilson said he did not know what the next step for the protesters could be.
“It’s a little soon. We’re going to have to reassess where we are. I don’t think we have a strategy right now,” he said. “We demonstrated this may be a tactic that can be used in other communities that are threatening the privatization or sale of their post offices. This is a form of free expression that we were able to demonstrate in one place with opposition from the authorities for a long time.”
Judge dismisses Berkeley’s bid to stop sale of post office (04.15.15)
Legal battles over Berkeley’s main post office continue (02.23.15)
Deal to buy Berkeley Post Office fizzles, police clear encampment (12.04.14)
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