CHP, Berkeley Police Make Arrests After Protests, Criticized for Tear Gas, Batons

Protesters are vowing to hit the streets again Monday night, upset over recent grand jury decisions not to charge police officers in the deaths of unarmed men.

Over the weekend, Berkeley became the new epicenter of the Bay Area movement in support of a growing national chorus asserting "Black Lives Matter," chants heard around the country in memory of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner of Staten Island, two black men who were killed by white police officers who are not facing any charges related to the deaths.

As the Berkeley protests grew violent on Saturday and Sunday nights, with a minority of demonstrators taking to the streets to kick over Porta-Potties, set fires and smash patrol car windshields, Berkeley police and the mayor also began facing some criticism for what some say were heavy-handed strategies. Five people were arrested by early Monday morning, Berkeley police said. And another eight were arrested by the California Highway Patrol.

The city of Berkeley issued a statement, citing the litany of violence against police, saying  rocks, bricks, bottles, pipes and even a crowbar were hurled at officers. "It is tragic that in the context of such an important demonstration," the statement read in part, " the events...resulted in violence, injuries and damage to the community."

However, a respected journalism organization and some members of the public were upset after some reporters were allegedly struck with batons and orchestra goers were tear-gassed in the birthplace of the Free Speech movement.

In an open letter on Monday, The Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists wrote that it "condemns in the strongest terms possible, the outragous conduct of law enforcement officers who assaulted members of the media during last night's demonstrations." The organization said it had been in touch with "a number of working journalists who say they were struck with police batons while working." One source said he was aware of three journalists who were hit - one in the head. The organization did not identify the reporters.

Reached by phone on Monday, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said the "emphasis is in the wrong place." He noted how some "thugs" were "taking away from the real issue."  Police, he said, were in a "difficult situation," although he acknowledged they may have "overreacted in some cases." He said he is standing by the department, but he added that he's directed them not to use tear gas unless the circumstances are extreme.

Berkeley police officer Jennifer Coats also indirectly responded to the criticism, by issuing some guidelines for media to adhere to when covering the volatile protests. Those include: displaying news credentials, reporting from "the side" of police lines, asking a supervisor for closer access and trying to stay away from the violence.

Berkleyside, an online news agency, live tweeted throughout the weekend, keeping track of the protests. Senior reporter Emilie Raguso took photos of many dumpsters and city garbage cans on fire, and about 100 people sitting down in the street at Alcatraz and Telegraph avenues Sunday night. The city of Berkeley noted in its Monday statement that at some point during the weekend, 1,000 protesters were marching peacefully on Martin Luther King Jr. Way when some members of the crowd began throwing "projectiles" at officers. Berkeley police got one report that a man had entered Trader Joe's with a hatchet and was threatening people inside. That man was one of the five later arrested.

Police kept giving "dispersal notices," the city said, but those orders weren't heeded. In response, the city noted, police "deployed smoke and tear gas."

But some say they shouldn't have been the victims of that smoke and gas.

An intern minister, Cindy Pincus, told Berkeleyside she was struck on the head with a baton as she was helping an injured protester, and her vision momentarily "blacked out." Thanh Bercher, 19, a sophomore at UC Berkeley, told NBC Bay Area her crowd was singing peacefully on Telegraph Avenue on Saturday about midnight when a "few anarchists" threw glass bottles at police. That's when police started jabbing people - including her - in the ribs. She was jabbed twice and  said "there was bruising."  Some in the crowd also lobbed tear gas cannisters back at police, she noted, but for the most part, the people in front "weren't doing anything." She plans to go back out and protest peacefully to show "how we've lost trust in our own police."

Throughout the weekend, the police department also issued a string of alerts about protesters looting, assaulting others, vandalizing stores such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Radio Shack and Chase Bank, and setting fires throughout the city on over the weekend.

When protesters blocked traffic on Sunday at Highway 24 in Oakland, CHP officers said someone tried to light a patrol vehicle on fire. Others threw rocks, bottles and an explosive at officers, which is when officers responded with tear gas. The CHP tweeted out pictures of damaged patrol cars, showing shattered windshields. Five patrol cars were damaged, the CHP said.

In Berkeley, some innocent people got caught up in the toxic spray including an older crowd who attended the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley on Channing Way that let out about 10:30 p.m. on Saturday night. One man reported he was disoriented and his lungs hurt the following day.

On social media, people including @WorthoftheWord tweeted "all #berkley police action did lastnight is radicalized an unsuspecting group of passersbys, and fired up alot of ppl that had no idea."

But many of the estimated 200 or 300 protesters were more upset with the handful of vandals and criminals, than they were with police.

"I understand their anger, I empathize with that," said Kyle Franklin of Safety 1st, an East Bay group that strives to people live in healthy communities. "The focus of their efforts is a bit wrong."

Added colleague, Lathan Hodge: "The violence part doesn't help your cause."

NBC Bay Area's Jodi Hernandez and Shawn Murphy contributed to this report. 

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