Berkeley Police Slammed For Posting Anti-Fascist Protesters Mugshots

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Berkeley police released images and information on 15 protesters who were arrested during clashes with far-right activists, putting them in danger, critics say.

Berkeley City officials are being accused of doxxing anti-fascist protesters by sharing their mugshots and private information on social media.

Critics say the practice could cause the activists to fear protesting again and put them in danger. It has also been condemned as a First Amendment violation. 

Just two days prior to the Aug. 5 “No to Marxism” rally in Berkeley, California, the city issued an advisory warning to people planning to attend the rally either to support or counter-protest that they could not wear masks, bandanas, scarves, or “any other accessory or item that covers or partially covers the face and shields the wearer’s face from view, or partially from view.”

The city also alerted locals that pipes, Tasers, poles, sticks, or “anything else that can be used for a ‘riot'” would not be allowed.

On the day of the rally, the small group of far-right activists were quickly besieged by counter-protesters. The clash naturally resulted in a lot of loud arguments and some vandalism, but there weren't any major violent demonstrations that led to many of the arrests made by the Berkeley Police Department.

Instead, the charges that resulted in the 20 arrests were associated with carrying “banned weapons,” “resisting arrest,” and “working with others to commit a crime.”

As the protests continued, police promptly announced the arrests on Twitter, sharing 15 photos of the arrestees. Three days later, the posts were deleted.

While the rules imposed just before the protest may have served as the rationale for police to arrest some of the protesters, the department never confirmed that detail. Instead, authorities used the vague term “weapons” to explain why many of the protesters were taken under custody.

Even though the protesters’ images were eventually removed from the department's Twitter profile a few days later, they had already been widely shared on social media by conservatives.

But the question remains: What exactly happened during the protest, and why do the police claim protesters were breaking the law?

As The Appeal reports, the high number of anti-fascist protesters had a hard time accessing the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park where police had been protecting the small group of right-wing activists. As a result, many marched through the streets, with some smashing car windows. Even a U.S. Marine recruiting center got vandalized.

In the midst of the chaos, police said later, protesters threw fireworks at officers.

Officials then responded with something a bit more severe: rubber bullets and smoke grenades.

After several confrontations between far-right activists and counter-protesters swept Berkeley last year, local police started using the practice of publishing arrestees’ images online. The first time they used this tactic was in September 2017. At the time, arrestees were released and were never convicted of a crime, so critics called the police’s decision to dox them into question.

“Last year, anti-fascist arrestees and one of their defense lawyers received death threats and neo-Nazis showed up at court and were waiting for arrestees outside the jail,” said Rachel Lederman, an attorney with the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. “Even the assistant district attorney was harassed. Berkeley is well aware of the danger in posting this information.”

Flash forward to now, and the same thing has happened again with only four of the arrestees actually being charged by the Alameda County district attorney’s office. Eventually, all of their cases were dismissed in court.

According to Lederman, all individuals arrested since last year in these protests called themselves members of the anti-fascist or “antifa” movement.

Five people arrested during a March 2017 demonstration were tried for assault and found not guilty, but Nathan Damigo, a member of white supremacist group Identity Evropa, was never arrested or charged after punching a woman in the face.

Are the police really doing their job if they are only arresting left-leaning protesters?

In a statement, Berkeley police spokesperson Officer Byron White defended the decision to release arrestees’ information online.

“This is done not in an effort to shame, or to chill freedom of speech, but to deny lawbreakers anonymity, and to deter those who in the future may be considering bringing weapons into our community, in order to commit acts of violence,” he said.

Despite the police department’s actions, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin said the city must “look into this and discuss whether this is an appropriate practice going forward,” adding that he was never involved in the decision to dox protesters.

While the Berkeley Police Department has long struggled to deal with protests in recent years, members of the National Lawyers Guild have repeatedly pointed out the bias against left-leaning protesters.

The group sued the city in 2014 after a Black Lives Matter protest turned violent when police used batons and tear gas on peaceful activists and reporters.

After the city settled, it promised to be better, but the reforms are still not where critics want them to be. Last month, the department was sued once again for using force against protesters during a June 2017 City Council meeting.

While the left struggles with the police targeting them, members of the right are quite happy with Berkeley police’s actions.

On Aug. 5, right-wing organizer Amber Cummings said that the “police have been great.”

“They’ve been handling things and keeping us separated. Police have done a great job here,” she added.

California’s law does not bar police departments from releasing public information related to an arrestee, but the practice of sharing their images and personal information on social media is unusual for Berkeley. 

The department has begun using this strategy recently in light of the latest protests, which suggests that they are deliberately exposing these individuals thus putting them in harm's way. 

As lawyers and protesters press on, with the mayor now saying he will get involved, there may soon be some changes implemented to prohibit the department from continuing this dangerous tactic. 

 

Banner/Thumbnail Credit: Reuters

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