Andrea Pritchett, Copwatch of Berkeley and I Cant Breathe and them

I ran into Andrea Pritchett at a folk concert in SF and got her card. I suggested she could do a one-woman show, a combination of song and story. My understanding is that she is a musician and bandleader, The Rebecca Riots, who supported Martin Sexton at the Cub years ago, and a teacher and a former Cal Student and probably graduate and an activist. Copwatch monitors Berkeley police and tries to support the police commission there.

Here in Palo Alto I tend to speak out for public safety unions and chat up our Chief Dennis Burns when I can, but am generally critical about leadership in recent years and do have this vague perhaps naive notion that we can normalize and demilitarize public safety here.

I think the Ferguson thing is more about class i.e. how we do or do not support the poor than about ethnicity.

I don’t think athletes, pro or college should reference some of the worst incidents in public safety and law enforcement, but I may be a pollyana here. I identify in certain ways with Oscar Grant and think the system responded to the tragedy. And I always believe its better to have a system that errs on the side of letting the guilty walk than one that locks up the innocent.

And I think people like Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative out of Birmingham, AL are right on that Gideon is not being enforced here, the rights of the accused, the right to fair trial.

I am pasting in something from Berkleyside about Cal Women’s hoops, two photos. And I do hope to catch up with Stanford’s reaction to all this, which I only caught part of.

Here is a letter Andrea wrote to the local media, 10 years ago, around the time I first met her:

As a founding member of Copwatch, I feel that I must respond to the misperceptions, misinformation and false notions that appeared in an opinion piece entitled “South Berkeley resident speaks out on Cop Watch,” (January 29, 2002).

The author of this letter seems to have given Copwatch quite a bit of consideration, but has not actually spoken with our members or read our literature. She seems to be operating in the belief that Copwatch is simply against the police on principle.

Within the movement for police accountability, citizens who advocate for independent, civilian oversight of police have often been characterized as being “anti-police.” This simplistic representation of our analysis of police misconduct does a disservice to Copwatch and to the police.

Within many professional law enforcement organizations nationally, there is support for civilian oversight of police. In fact, many police officers have come to believe that community involvement in oversight is essential, especially when we consider how difficult it is for officers who witness misconduct to “blow the whistle” on their fellow officers.

I agree with the author of the letter when she says that Berkeley is “NOT Los Angeles, not even Oakland”. Berkeley citizens voted to establish one of the first Police Review Commissions in the country in 1973, and since that time, there has been a long line of citizens who have invested countless hours into making sure that brutality and misconduct did not become common practice as it has in some other communities.

For the last twelve years, Copwatch volunteers have dedicated themselves to the task of monitoring police conduct. This kind of community oversight helps to explain why Berkeley cops are held to a higher standard of conduct.

Copwatch is made up of volunteers. We are teachers, students, office and construction workers, doctors, artists and others.

We train members of the public in non-violence techniques, observation methods and relevant aspects of the law. We train our members to deescalate situations where possible, not to interfere and to practice non-violence at all times (no verbal put downs, don’t run, keep your hands visible, etc). I must confess that I was shocked to read the paragraph in which the author claims that some officer on the BPD had taken two of the “main leaders” of Copwatch to the hospital to be treated for heroin overdose. This claim is not only untrue, but I fear that it is an effort to “kill the messenger” for carrying the unpleasant information that yes, police misconduct persists in Berkeley to this day.

We at Copwatch have brought incidents of misconduct to the attention of the Police Review Commission and had allegations sustained. We have challenged and ultimately changed policies that we perceived to be unjust or ill considered. We have conducted countless “Know Your Rights” workshops in an effort to educate the public and to defend our basic civil rights. We have provided support and referrals to victims of misconduct. We are currently investigating claims that the Berkeley Drug Task Force has been using excessive force as a means of carrying out drug suppression efforts.

I am glad that the author has had positive experiences with members of the Berkeley Police Department. However, that is not the experience of all Berkeley residents. Copwatch receives many complaints of misconduct each week especially from people who live in south and west Berkeley.

As a school teacher, a twenty year resident of Berkeley, and someone who cherishes the Bill of Rights, I will continue to observe police, speak out against injustice and work for a better Berkeley.

Andrea Pritchett

Co-founder of Copwatch

and 1:
Ward Sutton, often syndicated in Metro, has for the Globe Dec 15 “Do The White Thing” take on all this. Here
Ms. Pritchett is in the middle, between Eve Decker and Lisa Zeiler about five years ago, playing the harmonica:

continuation, or i jumptheshark:
when I said hello to Andrea I said she had played opening for Cheryl Wheeler but she corrected me that is was Martin Sexton she opened for or supported. It was both. And fact-checking that brings me to a PAW article about soccer standout Callie Withers whose artwork I saw in Gunn Oracle and licensed for the show:
Besides her standout soccer performances as a center midfielder at Gunn High School, Withers is also a talented artist. Her mixed-medium artwork recently caught the attention of Mark Weiss at Earthwise Productions. Weiss is a Palo Alto-based concert promoter who hosts many shows for up-and-coming music performers at Cubberley Community Center Theatre.

Weiss had seen one of Withers’ drawings featured in Gunn’s student paper, The Oracle, and promptly arranged for a meeting with Withers. Withers’ piece, a pencil sketch of an old woman’s face juxtaposed with baby cutouts, was used to publicize last Friday’s concert at Cubberley featuring Cheryl Wheeler, Rebecca Riots and Allette Brooks.

“I wanted to give a young female artist from the community a chance to be represented in an event that featured other women artists,” Weiss said. “I saw this piece and it clicked as a good concept for the marketing of this event.”

And what was Withers’ reaction to her untitled work being featured?

“I guess I was kinda surprised,” she says modestly. “I didn’t think my work was that good to be in something (for Earthwise).”

The Rebecca Riots if memory serves has to do with a political reaction to some early feminist battles. I did nail that the band, according to their bio was called “Final Girl” about the weirdness of feminism or lack thereof in slasher horror films, there was often one final victim, female, but the author of that book or treatise did not want a band to use her term.

I would rather sick a harmonica player on a problem than tear gas or stun guns. And I kinda wonder about the cost of putting cameras on police. Seems like pork to me. I thought I read in recent paper that in San Mateo they are putting $1 million into cameras but it comes out $5,000 per unit. I’d rather invest in good people not the gear. As in, Andrea Pritchett without harmonica if needs be.


About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player; he also sang in local choir, and fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32
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