Most stood and spoke with pride and respect, cradling their cause reverently, boldly, while others barely concealed their rage with fiery speeches. They told of being knocked to the ground, punched, the burn of mace in their faces, shoved against concrete walls, brutally dragged to police vans, being booked into jail on outrageous felony charges; all in retaliation for using their U.S. Constitutionally guaranteed rights of free speech and free assembly.
Forty citizens gathered at the San Diego Citizens’ Review Board on Police Practices, Tuesday evening, January 25, pleading with its 23 members to investigate not only the San Diego Police Departments continuing harassment of the Occupy San Diego movement but the SDPD’s frightening new policy of allowing police officers to change, modify and make new laws on the spot.
Middle-class housewives, small business owners, veterans, an attorney, college students, even downtown employees passing by, victimized by the sustained police violence in the Civic Center Plaza. These were not members of the “great unwashed horde of radicals,” although there were a few aging hippies in the crowd, and, almost in unison, their imploration to the police review board was to find out who ordered this campaign against citizen rights and find a way to end it.
The meeting of the Police Review Board was opened with an explanation of its purpose which included, in addition to investigating specific complaints against individual officers, “to present policy and procedural recommendations to the city.” Questionable whether the Board was representative of our diverse city [there were no blacks, no Hispanics, no Latinas, no representatives from working-class areas or the poor sitting at the table], yet the chair announced “we are citizens in an oversight role.”
Warning that San Diego Police behavior is out of control, Attorney Adrian Beraccialo, alluded to that oversight role and called on the Review Board to investigate “police violence which is happening on a weekly basis.” Noting that she was a member of the National Lawyers Guild and had been arbitrarily arrested and abused by a police officer named McCory for her monitoring activities, she spoke of people being arrested for activities which were not criminal. “Most Occupy arrests are unlawful,” she said, “and while police actions may be technically legal, they are totally inappropriate and a waste to taxpayers’ money.” She warned the Board that several of her clients have been injured during bogus arrests where no charges were filed and these retaliatory and punitive actions by police officers will result in millions of dollars in civil litigation for the city.
Denouncing the city of San Diego’s continuing war on civil liberties, free speech and the right of assembly, many speakers pointed out that the absurd $2.4 million spent on destroying the San Diego Occupy Movement was an obscene waste, particularly in light of the fact that 90 percent of the arrestees have not been charged in court.
Speaking on the “selective law enforcement” at the Civic Center Plaza, one veteran said he had signed up to defend the Constitution of the United States “against all enemies, both foreign and domestic,” and noted that anyone who denies free speech is an enemy. “Someone has let the attack dogs of the lease,” he shouted, “and I want to know who?”
“I am horrified at police actions and abuse I have witnessed,” downtown businessman Ben Cass told the Review Board. “Freedom of speech is what keeps us together as a society and selective law enforcement against political opponents is wrong.”
He noted that if police had arrested people for sitting in chairs or carrying an American Flag at Martin Luther King Day activities there would have been an uproar and he pointed out that the Republican Party recently held an event with table and chairs at the very site where Occupy folks are routinely harassed and arrested for gathering.
“Tonight’s testimony is chilling,” Stephanie Jennings, 51, a founding member of a San Diego organization that aids the poor and infirmed, told the Review Board members. Injured by police officers, she told of being targeted “because of my political views.” Pointing out there has been over a hundred arrests at the civic center, she said “there is a clear pattern by the SDPD to silence us and I want to know who is calling the shots.”
One thin young man named Cliff, in quivering voice, quietly told the Board that all he wanted was a space where people could come and practice democracy and “question their government.” He told of being traumatized and forever transformed at watching seven police officers drag a crippled, homeless man out of his wheel chair and slam him into the pavement in retaliation for warning others who were sleeping that the police were approaching.
He paused for a moment, nervous energy seeming to draw inward, looking into the eyes of the Police Review Board, none under 40 years of age, glancing at the uniformed police officers at the table his stance became resilient, a reflex of defiance of their Orwellian world, and in a friendly yet firm voice warned the Police Review Board, “I am not going anywhere, Occupy San Diego is not going anywhere; in fact, we are only going to get larger.”