On June 9, Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood said at a City Council meeting, during the heart of protests about George Floyd’s murder, that if the police were prohibited from using tear gas on protesters and did not have any alternative tools to protect themselves, that “…we could shoot people.”
Then, on July 30, a Berkeley police officer opened fire on a car of three Black teenagers who were fleeing a suspected robbery. There was no public response by Chief Greenwood except to release a propagandistic, rationalizing video produced by an expensive PR firm and paid for by Berkeley taxpayers’ money. A report was supposed to be released by Sept. 30, but one still has not been produced. Greenwood has a well-documented pattern of not releasing uses of force to the public, despite a 2017 court settlement requiring this No transparency, no accountability.
After hearing Greenwood threaten to shoot the citizens he was hired to protect, did Mayor Jesse Arreguín call for his resignation? He did not. When a Berkeley police officer then opened fire on a car with three fleeing youths and Greenwood failed to provide meaningful accountability, did the mayor call for the chief’s resignation? He did not. In fact, he ignored calls for accountability for as long as possible, protecting Greenwood and he continues to do so to this day.
After Greenwood’s comment in June, Councilmember Cheryl Davila on July 14 submitted a “Vote of No Confidence for Police Chief Greenwood” agenda item. Many Berkeley residents supported the resolution. The mayor had 60 days to put it on the council’s agenda. Even after the July shooting by the police, though, Arreguín waited until the last possible moment, Sept. 15, before adding it to the agenda. More than 75 members of the public were on the Zoom call waiting to have their voices heard. They never got that opportunity. The mayor buried it as the last item on the agenda, and instead of extending the meeting — which runs late almost every week — he abruptly adjourned it at 11p before it came up.
To add insult to injury, Arreguín again waited for the 60-day limit, until Nov 10, before putting the “Vote of No Confidence” back on the council’s agenda. Again it was the last item. Again, after a disjointed and poorly prepared discussion of Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani’s proposal to install surveillance cameras throughout the city (on behalf of the police — we’ve wandered a long way from our progressive roots), the mayor interrupted and said, “It’s 11:01 — the meeting is adjourned.“ All went silent and the Zoom meeting was abruptly ended.
I know of at least a dozen people — and I expect there were many more — who had patiently endured a 4.5-hour meeting to once again be thwarted. The mayor refuses to listen to the voices of the people he had sworn to serve and to hold his police chief accountable. Instead, he continues to serve the status quo — which includes police violence — and to avoid conflict on the city council. He can delay this indefinitely two months at a time. As a leader responsible for his own team’s performance, I find this lack of accountability appalling and unacceptable. We need more than bureaucracy mired in self-serving politics. We need leadership and accountability.
Meanwhile, the city is in the midst of one of the most important transformations it has taken on in decades: reimagining community safety and policing as part of the omnibus bill that the City Council unanimously passed in July. If this process is to be successful, the community needs to trust that our voices matter and that our opinions are valued. Each time the voices in the community are silenced by postponing the vote of no confidence in Greenwood, the community’s trust is eroded.
The mayor and the council are undermining their ability to fulfill their promise of a robust community engagement process reimagining public safety. I urge the mayor and the councilmembers to honor their commitment to the community. Put the vote of no confidence in Greenwood as the first action item on the Dec. 1 agenda. And don’t just let the people speak. Listen to them and take action. The people deserve this.