Pastor Michael McBride leads about 100 protesters on University Avenue. Photo: Pete Rosos

A group of about 100 protesters, many of them from The Way, a Berkeley church led by Pastor Michael McBride, marched today to denounce police violence against Black Americans — and to call for Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood to resign.

The group, which knelt for eight minutes in the middle of the intersection of University Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, alternately chanted, “Black Lives Matter,” “I can’t breathe,” and “Hey hey, ho ho, Chief Greenwood has got to go.” Protesters then clustered in front of the police department headquarters to sing, pray and demand that police departments around the U.S., as well as in Berkeley, be defunded.

Not a single police officer was visible during the two-hour march and protest.

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The Way church organized the march about a week ago to protest the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes, cutting off his oxygen supply. But, on Thursday, McBride heard the comments Greenwood made Tuesday during a City Council meeting and decided to expand the message of the march, he said.

As the council was discussing whether to permanently ban the use of tear gas as a crowd control method, City Councilmember Susan Wengraf asked Greenwood what kind of “alternative tools’ would be at officers’ disposal if a crowd turned violent and police could not use tear gas. Greenwood had mentioned that protesters at one recent march in Oakland had thrown incendiary devices at Berkeley police.

Wengraf: Chief, if you could. Do, does our force have any alternative tools to use to protect themselves in a situation like you just described?”

Greenwood: Firearms. We can shoot people?

Wengraf: That’s, [laughs] – no.

Greenwood: I mean — that’s, I — I don’t mean to be callous. I’m just saying, if you’re being attacked with lethal force, if we don’t have less-lethal that can drive it back then, then we’re absent a tool. That’s my concern. I’m sorry I don’t mean to go so – I’m not trying to be overly dramatic, and I apologize. But when projectiles are being thrown at you, when Molotov cocktails are being thrown at you, you need to be able to do something. And I – these less-lethal tools that we have now, that we use according to our policy, those are important tools for us.

The comment about using firearms and shooting people outraged many listeners and some immediately called for Greenwood’s resignation. The chief later asked to apologize for his remarks.

Greenwood: “I would like to apologize to all of you — mayor, council members and community members — for my statement, and for the way I came out. You know that it doesn’t reflect my passion for service and my work in terms of trying to bring progressive leadership to this profession in service of the community.

I was asked, “What other tools do you have?” I responded as I did. [Pause, sighs, crying] I’m tired, as are my people. I should have been more mindful of that, and taken a moment. I should have said: We have nothing else, in the sense that gas and smoke are the last tools, the last resort that we have. There has been so much misinformation propagated today, without challenge, and you heard me answering out of some frustration from that. I apologize for answering that way. I am deeply sorry for the distraction. And, that’s it. Thank you.”

Greenwood also apologized for his remarks in a special virtual meeting Thursday night on race and the community.

Protesters observe eight minutes of silence at University Avenue and MLK Jr. Way. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
A protester speaks at the June 13 march from The Way to BPD headquarters. Photo: Pete Rosos

For McBride, and some of the other marchers, the context in which Greenwood made those remarks, the fact that they may have been facetious, the fact that he apologized for them doesn’t matter. They said they are outraged and disturbed that he could have even suggested police could use firearms. They said those words show how out of touch he is.

“Andy Greenwood has lost my confidence and I believe the confidence of many, by either jokingly, or out of his exhaustion, sending a message that it is even appropriate to speak about shooting protesters,” McBride said before the march began.

“In a moment where we are trying to deescalate, defund, radically transform policing — the City Council has consensus about this, the people have consensus about this. Andy Greenwood does not seem to join us in this idea. So …  why would we want a police chief leading the police department who does not agree in his heart about the way with which we interact with protesters exercising their constitutional right? ….. Why would a progressive city want that kind of leadership?”

Rev Anthony L. Hughes, of the St. Paul A.M.E. Church of Berkeley, also known as  “Pastor Tony” agreed.

“We all know our own police chief here in Berkeley made some ridiculous comments regarding shooting protesters so we are also calling for his resignation.”

Moni Law — who is a member of The Way, is active in Berkeley politics and who was a party to a successful lawsuit against the police department for how officers treated her and others during 2014 Black Lives Matter protests — said she heard Greenwood’s remarks Tuesday. “I was stunned. I was crying,” she said.

It is unclear how many people in Berkeley want the police chief to resign, but some people are working to get the word out about his comments. On Friday, this reporter spotted a handmade sign slipped into a bus shelter on Shattuck and Ashby avenues that read: “We can shoot them. — Andrew Greewood [sic] BPD Chief.”

Some commentators on a Berkeleyside article about the City Council’s decision to ban the use of tear gas expressed support for Greenwood and said his remarks had been taken out of context.

“I happen to think that Chief Greenwood (whom I have had the pleasure to meet due to our children’s schooling), is uniquely skilled and motivated to continue to lead our police department forward, just as he has been doing,” wrote one commentator. “He spoke the truth, in answer to a difficult question, and yes, as he corrected himself, there was a better way to express it. Police officers do get tired, too, and the Berkeley police have been experiencing a certain amount of unrelenting, generalized, harsh and often unfair criticism since the murder of George Floyd. I, for one, hope that we could tolerate a few blunt words.”

“I don’t think the chief should apologize for stating the truth,” wrote another commentator. “If you take away less-lethal response you are left with lethal. It’s just the truth. People are outraged because his response made them look silly. I believe we must demilitarize the criminals before we demilitarize the police. I don’t want my police officers in a “fair fight”. I want them to win every time.

McBride said he and other pastors and faith leaders intend to pressure City Council members and the city manager to force Greenwood’s resignation. The only person who can fire Greenwood is the city manager, Dee Williams-Ridley.

Sending prayers to Berkeley police. Photo: Pete Rosos

The movement calling to defund police departments has grown stronger in the last two weeks as hundreds of thousands of people have marched on the street decrying white supremacy and police brutality.

McBride, like others, said during a speech in front of the police department that the responsibilities of police must be curtailed. He said only 5% of police arrests are for violent offenses. That means cities allot 95% of police time “using armed individuals to respond to mental illness, to drug addiction, to jaywalking to sleeping on the grass or in a business doorway. We do not need our police officers to deal with non-violent offenses.”

McBride accused Berkeley police of not wanting to reallocate resources and not wanting to see its budget cut, let alone stop using tear gas.

“So if this police department does not believe that, if this chief cannot guide his police officers into the 21st century, we need a new chief.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated after publication to show that Moni Law was part of a group of people who brought a lawsuit against the Berkely police department. The suit was settled after the police department promised to document force during demonstrations.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...