March 27—At 4:00 p.m. today, homeless people and their housed neighbors in Berkeley will hold a protest concerning the recent brutal beating of two homeless men by two employees of the Downtown Berkeley Association. The protest will take place at 2230 Shattuck Ave., in front of the entry to the DBA's office.
On March 19, Nathan Christopher Swor and James Wilbur Cocklereese, both homeless, were confronted by two "ambassadors"—downtown private security personnel—contracted by the DBA. The conflict verbally escalated until one of the ambassadors, Jeffrey D. Bailey, stepped on Cocklereese's belongings. When instructed to step off of the property, Bailey punched Cocklereese, and then beat him repeatedly while the other ambassador, Carmen Francois, held off Swor. Bailey later struck Swor, then returned to Cocklereese, gripped him by the throat, and warned him that he (Bailey) was watching him (Cocklereese). The ambassadors then contacted the Berkeley Police Department, and alleged that the homeless men were the assailants. Cocklereese and Swor were arrested, and held until Monday, March 23, when they were released on a plea bargain. Swor has been sentenced to court probation for two years, and Cocklereese for thirty days, which he will serve through the Sheriff's work program. Both men are to return to court on May 18 for determination of restitution to the ambassadors.
However, on Thursday, March 26, a video with clear audio surfaced, revealing that the homeless men did not assault the ambassadors, but quite the contrary. The Downtown Berkeley Association responded by firing Bailey and placing Francois on suspension, but community members say that this is inadequate. Ninja Kitty, a homeless man who has lived in Berkeley for over a decade, said, "John Caner of the DBA says that this is contrary to his organization's goals. But part of ambassadors' job is to intimidate homeless people off of Shattuck Avenue. People are only intimidated if the violence is sometimes real. This brutality is a part of what the DBA does. This isn't the first time that ambassadors have assaulted homeless people—it's just the first time it's been caught so well on camera."
Osha Neumann, an attorney with the East Bay Community Law Center, said, "Multiple times in the past couple months, private citizens have recorded Berkeley Police arresting homeless people with disabilities in ways that resulted in injuries. This incident differs only in that the shirt is yellow rather than blue. Just last week, the DBA brought to Berkeley's City Council a slate of six new anti-homeless laws that criminalize everyday activities. This isn't a coincidence. When the DBA pushes for criminalization, police and ambassadors feel pressured to use force to push homeless citizens out of public spaces. We don't want to see just the one guy who got caught fired: We want the DBA to end its campaign of criminalization and brutality against homeless people. If they want to address homelessness, then they need to be good faith members of the community, and participate in public processes like the Homeless Taskforce."