Sept. 7, 2017 – NewsGuild member Brooke Anderson was roughed up by police in late June, ironically, while covering a protest at a Berkeley City Council meeting that focused on how police departments handle protests. The credentialed photographer is a member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild local, which includes a unit of freelancers like Anderson.
The protest began on June 20 during a special evening hearing on whether the City Council should continue to fund and participate in Urban Shield, a program that conducts exercises for first responders on how to deal with protests, natural disasters and “large-scale events.” The program also provides an “expo” that offers companies the opportunity to “place their products and technology directly into the hands of SWAT, Fire, EOD and EMS professionals,” according to their website.
Opponents say the program encourages police to use excessive force and promotes militarization of police departments.
The Berkeley City Council hearing lasted five or six hours, spilling over to the early morning hours of June 21. When it became apparent that the council was going to vote in favor of the program, several protesters moved to the front of room and unfurled a banner that said, “Stop Urban Shield.”
Police arrested two of the protesters, and as they were leading the detainees out of the building, a crowd of about 50 people filed into the street behind them.
Pushing with Their Batons
Police began pushing people with their batons, Anderson said, but there was nowhere to go.
At least four protesters were injured, including Lewis Williams, a 73-year-old man who fell to the ground and struck his head.
Anderson was in the crowd, taking pictures, wearing her press pass on a lanyard around her neck.
“I was caught with nowhere to go,” she said. When the police told her to move back, she told them she was media and held up her pass. “I’m documenting, I’m not interfering,” she says she told them repeatedly.
As the police closed in on the crowd, “I had my camera up to my eye,” she said, when an officer “pushed the camera into my face.” He also struck her arm, leaving her bruised on her face and arm, and suffering from a severe headache.
‘Shakes You Up’
Although her injuries were minor, “The experience shakes you up,” she said.
“No journalist who comes out to a City Council meeting should expect to go home having experienced violence at the hands of the police, least of all in Berkeley, the home of the Free Speech movement.
“I thought it was important to be there to document,” she said. And she did: Three of her photos were published in the San Francisco Chronicle [photos 2, 3 and 4] the following day.
The Pacific News Media Guild protested the treatment Anderson received in a letter to Mayor Jesse Arreguin and Police Chief Andrew Greenwood. “It is inexcusable that one of our members was the target of this kind of excessive force by the Berkeley Police Department,” Carl Hall, the local’s executive officer, wrote. “It’s not okay for working journalists to be subjected to that kind of treatment.”
Anderson also asked for a meeting with the chief of police, but as of mid-September, neither she nor Hall had received a response.
The incident is also symptomatic of the special difficulties freelancers face. “As a freelancer, I can’t go back to a news agency or an editor who would be willing to make calls to the mayor or the chief of police,” she said.
“That’s why I’m so grateful the Guild has my back,” she said.