children's playground
UCPD detained two boys near a playground at University Village last week, prompting outrage from residents and a campus call for a review of the events. Photo: William Lundquist

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ has called for an “outside review” into the June 26 actions of university police after officers detained two black children, handcuffing the 11-year-old son of a student.

Last week’s incident has prompted concern and criticism from the boys’ parents and other residents of the graduate family housing complex University Village, where the incident took place. Some black tenants say they feel targeted and unsafe there.

The chain of events last Wednesday began with the report of a cellphone theft at University Village, according to UC Berkeley spokeswoman Janet Gilmore. A UCPD officer quickly located that phone and a separate stolen purse, returning both items to their owners, “to the victims’ satisfaction,” Gilmore said in an emailed statement. There was “no need for any further police action.”

Later the same day, two boys, both of whom were black, called UCPD to report a woman taking photos of them near a playground at the housing complex, which is in Albany.

“During their investigation, UCPD learned the female was accusing one of the two minors (age 11) of having taken her purse earlier that morning,” Gilmore said. Two “UCPD officers detained both of the youths. The situation escalated and resulted in the 11-year-old being handcuffed and both minors placed in the back of a patrol car. The situation concluded with both of the youths being released to their parents.”

On Tuesday, Christ sent an email to the campus community, writing that she was “concerned” about the incident and would ask for a review of what happened.

“I am aware of the broader context of national police interaction with the Black community and believe this and any comparable situations warrant attention from campus leadership and I am a committed partner in this work,” Christ wrote. 

The review will include “UCPD officials working with counseling experts, faculty and others to develop practices to help de-escalate issues, especially those involving children,” Gilmore said.

Residents of University Village and others held a community meeting Monday after campus police detained the children of student tenants. Photo: William Lundquist

The June 26 incident shook some University Village residents and other students and faculty members. A community meeting, organized by graduate students and facilitated by Professor Nikki Jones, drew 30-40 people Monday. Most of the attendees were tenants at University Village, which houses students who have spouses or children, among other residents. Parents of the two boys and others said black residents are often mistreated and profiled by their neighbors at the complex, who call the police when they misread something as “suspicious.”

“My child lost his innocence and I want somebody to be accountable for that,” said a mother of one of the boys during the meeting.

Organizers of the meeting said they have video footage of the interaction between police and the two children, where they said excessive force was used, but have chosen not to share it to protect the kids.

“Two black children were assaulted by the University of California, Berkeley Police Department yesterday,” wrote organizer Derrika Hunt, a graduate student, in a public Facebook post shared with Berkeleyside. “CHILDREN. 11 years old. 13 years old…my heart is so heavy.”

Gilmore said she did not have any more information about what happened between the officers and the children beyond what she included in her statement. She told Berkeleyside it is not a violation of UC policy for police to handcuff an 11-year-old.

Gilmore did not clarify whether the two boys had any connection with the thefts reported earlier that day at the housing complex. Residents at the community meeting said the children had helped “solve a crime” earlier in the day before they were detained.

In her statement, Gilmore said representatives from numerous campus departments, including UCPD, Equity & Inclusion, and the chancellor’s office, have met with the families affected by the events last week.

“As a campus community, it is important that we recognize that individuals carry with them different life experiences and identities,” she wrote.

William Lundquist contributed to reporting this story. 

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Natalie Orenstein

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...