The Occupation: The Police
The police were everywhere around People’s Park. Berkeley police; Livermore police; the Highway Patrol; Albany, Richmond, Oakland police; the Alameda County tactical response squad — all with something to prove. The out-of-town cops seemed predictably vicious, out to kick some of that supposedly soft Berkeley ass (all those hippies! all those punks! — it must have seemed like cop heaven at times) and show the Berkeley cops how to really put down a riot. The Berkeley police (who’d lost control during the first hours of the riots) seemed bent on proving that their mixture of firmness and reasonably good-humoured tolerance would finally work.
Once the police worked out what was happening (late Friday night, I suspect), they started using a bunch of unnerving strategies and tactics. In particular, they’d suddenly issue ambiguous orders or signals about which side of the road (for example) was OK and which was not, then almost immediately arrest anyone on what they determined was the wrong side — without giving people any time to understand the orders, let alone get across to the right side. What constituted the right side was almost always quite inscrutable or arbitrary. The obvious intention was to make even spectators liable to arrest, in an attempt to keep crowds away — in effect, to make it plain that they considered that there were no innocent bystanders any more (despite the residents and shoppers trying to get around).
Combined with the sudden changes in direction and tactics used, this was very effective — at any particular time, you were never sure whether you were safe, about to be shot at with wooden bullets, or arrested, or just politely asked to stay off the sidewalk or something.
During the times when there were no protests or riots (most of the rest of the week), the police just lurked, mostly watching the world go by, often enough with good humour and a certain amused tolerance, but also sometimes harrassing people, sometimes asking for ID… the trouble was, you never knew ahead of time which attititude you’d encounter.
But for all that, it was difficult to miss that the police are human too — with all the good and bad that implies.