An ugly set of rumors, innuendo and apparently purposed disinformation from media and the Berkeley Police Department have risen out of the murder of Peter Cukor outside of his home in Berkeley on Friday, February 17 . The narrative meme—that police busy monitoring Occupy Oakland protests are somehow prevented from stopping such crimes—is the same one that Mayor Quan and police department propagandists have been recycling for some time, despite its obviously twisted logic and lack of factual basis.
Similarly, some important facts get in the way of this narrative. One, the initial call to Berkeley PD was made on a non-emergency line, and, as the SF Chronicle reports, it was not to report a life-threatening situation. When a 9-11 call was finally made by the victim’s wife, Cukor had already been tragically murdered. But more importantly, the Occupy Oakland weekly march had not even begun in Oakland when this call was made at 8:45pm. As I and many others, attested to in concrete online commentary and video upload, the march had barely left the plaza by 9pm and was well over an hour away from Berkeley a half an hour later at 9:15pm.
At that time, objectively, there was no evidence that the march of seventy-five or so activist would even make it the five-mile distance that it would take to arrive in Berkeley.
Indeed, as a testament to the low-level of concern over the march-which had been advertised as non-violent—only one OPD plain clothes car containing two officers accompanied the march all the way to the Berkeley border. Once in Berkeley, there was no visible sign of police anywhere near the march.
But one of the most important points that cannot be lost in this ugly game of disinformation, is that the right to freedom of speech and assembly should never be based on whether the police think it’s a good idea. In every other country on earth, that would be a laughable prospect, as the government’s own enforcement wing would dictate the rights of dissent for those living in democratic societies–the hallmark of a totalitarian state, in fact, is exactly that dynamic.
Suggesting such a thing, as various city leaders and police officials have done since the Occupy movement started in New York last year, is offensive and should make residents of the Bay Area furious. If residents believe that police can prevent murders, then they should be furious that the police are instead being dispatched to monitor the remote possibility of minor property destruction elsewhere. They should be furious that police would dare to contrive this fanciful yarn about Occupy. And they should be furious to see police and city governments seeking to undermine the right of free speech and assembly to the point where only groups like Stand for Oakland, that come out to support police and city leaders are considered a legitimate form of popular protest.