In a 5-4 decision, the Berkeley City Council voted to extend an emergency curfew in the city through Friday morning after an emotional three-hour discussion that didn’t end until 12:20 a.m. Wednesday.
The curfew will begin nightly at 9 and end at 5 the next morning, following several amendments Mayor Jesse Arreguín made in collaboration with city staff. There are exemptions for first responders, people seeking medical help, those going to or leaving home or work, the media, and unsheltered individuals. Berkeley also put in place language to reflect the city’s position that peaceful protests that begin before 9 p.m. should be allowed to conclude, though officials did not specify exact requirements for what they described as a “buffer” period.
Throughout the night, Berkeley City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley pleaded with officials to extend the curfew to keep the city safe in the wake of recent looting and arrests in Berkeley and elsewhere in the Bay Area, particularly as nearby jurisdictions — and Alameda County — all have their own curfew rules in place. Demonstrations against police violence have swept through the area since last week’s killing of George Floyd during his arrest by Minneapolis police. Many thousands of protesters demanding an end to systemic racism have made their voices heard in cities around the nation, while some have taken advantage of the unrest to commit crimes.
“I don’t want to stop anyone from speaking,” said Williams-Ridley. “I want it to be so loud that they hear it in every county.”
Williams-Ridley, who is black, said the past week has been marked by difficult, heartbreaking conversations with the young men in her own household. She said she, too, has been angry, but that she must ensure the safety of protesters and the rest of the city.
“This curfew is temporary but it’s necessary,” the city manager said. “This order will not be used as a tool for racial profiling.”
Some city officials — including Berkeley’s two black elected officials, Cheryl Davila and Ben Bartlett — said they simply could not stomach the idea of giving law enforcement more discretion at this time or the idea of curtailing civil liberties. Council members Kate Harrison and Rigel Robinson also voted against the curfew.
Bartlett and Davila said they were not convinced that the curfew was needed. Harrison said the police already have laws they can use for enforcement.
Most of those who spoke during public comment shared those same concerns and said Berkeley should not be afraid to stand alone without a curfew despite what other cities are doing. A few people said officials needed to extend the curfew to protect the city and that local business owners needed support, particularly now after months of dealing with the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ultimately, council members Rashi Kesarwani, Sophie Hahn, Lori Droste, Susan Wengraf and Mayor Arreguín voted to support the city manager’s request to extend the curfew in the interest of public safety and to avoid the possibility that the county curfew created by Sheriff Gregory Ahern might apply in Berkeley.
Arreguín noted that curfews have been used elsewhere to crack down on youth and protesters. He pledged that this would not happen here.
“That’s not Berkeley,” he said. “This is not something that we do lightly.”