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Berkeley Police Find Terrified Residents, No Drugs
How Berkeley police are terrorizing residents
<strong>BPD Sting Finds Terrified Residents but No Dealers<br>
Raids Include Guns, Battering Ram, Strip Searches, Property Destruction</strong>
On May 21, 2001, Copwatch received a call from a resident of UA Homes asking for help in dealing with police raids of the building. The soft-spoken man explained that three rooms had already been devastated; doors had been battered open, shelves were pulled from the walls, computers smashed, and clothes and personal items piled high in the center of the rooms. Residents were held at gunpoint while Special Task Force officers conducted these searches. He was afraid, he said, because he thought that he would be next. In fact, residents have expressed great fear of retaliation by the police.
UA Homes is one of the last remaining Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels in the city. Licensed to accommodate formerly homeless residents, many of the occupants are involved in drug recovery programs, receiving SSI or are involved with a harm reduction group. Dual diagnosis (mental illness and drug dependency) is not uncommon for the residents here. Residents are aware that the search warrants are being given to police based on information provided by other residents. In fact, Berkeley Police Officers are empowered to pay cash to anonymous informants, and the identity of the informant need not be disclosed in order for a warrant to be issued. The knowledge that some residents are making accusations to the police has created a climate of fear and suspicion that makes recovery even more difficult.
Lisa O’Connor, a drug counselor who has worked with many of the residents for years, expressed frustration with the police tactics. “How can we run effective recovery programs in this climate? If residents are afraid to disclose information about their habits and don’t feel safe to talk how can they deal with their recovery issues?”
Copwatch volunteers documented the devastation. On May 30th, another raid happened. Another long-time resident of the building was handcuffed and strip-searched as his room was essentially destroyed. No drugs were found. Other residents reported that officers trained their guns on them in the hallway as they attempted to get by. A meeting of tenants and lawyers later that afternoon raised the possibility that the police were not really worried that they had not recovered significant results from the raids. Residents expressed their concern that the raids were a way of getting drug arrests associated with the building and ultimately forcing the de-certification of the building. The de-certification could lead to residents being forced out of the building to make way for students who are able to pay a higher market rate for these same rooms. While this speculation remains unverified, residents feel uneasy about the future.
In the meantime, residents are preparing to file Police Review complaints, fight criminal charges and to file lawsuits. The tenants association is preparing to fight for the rights of the tenants, and support is coming from B.O.S.S. workers and Copwatch volunteers. With the current shortage in Berkeley’s housing stock, activists are determined to prevent any more marginalized people from being kicked into the streets.