What Are ‘Symbolic Arrests’ and Why Is the Berkeley PD Offering Them to Protesters?

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By William Hicks | 3:51 pm, April 18, 2017
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In the wake of the latest protests-turned riots in Berkeley, a screenshot has been making the rounds on Twitter that shows the Berkeley Police Department offers something called “symbolic arrests.”

Some people are up in arms because they assume this means fake arrests and that it suggests an overly cosy relationship between the protesters and the cops in Berkeley.

But it turns out that symbolic arrests are, for all intents and purposes, real arrests, and it’s not that uncommon for police departments to offer them. Here’s how they work:

Essentially protesters can call up the police department while planning an event and schedule a time and place to get arrested. The police swoop in and arrest the volunteer martyrs, ending the protest in an entertaining spectacle for all.

According to a spokesperson from the Berkeley Police Department:

This type of arrest is where someone advices the Police Department in advance that they want to be arrested (for something like blocking the roadway) for the purpose of making a political statement.  This is an actual arrest, and those who engage in them, despite the fact that they requested it, are still arrested with charges forwarded to the DA’s Office.

So basically it’s a real arrest, with real consequences. In effect, it streamlines the protesting process. Instead of waiting for police to break up the crowd with batons and pepper sprays, all this fuss can be pre-arranged. Symbolic arrests appear to be perfect for protesters too fragile to get arrested like a normal anti-establishmentarian. It’s perfect for celebrities and folks with osteoporosis.

The spokesperson also claimed Berkeley PD has not made a symbolic arrest in years.

Symbolic arrests actually happen semi-regularly. Like when Robert F. Kennedy Jr., got arrested for chaining himself to the White House fence in protest of the Keystone XL pipeline. These kind of arrests happen all the time outside the White House. Police even offered to make symbolic arrests at the Dakota Access Pipeline protest as an incentive to honorably end the protest. The 1981 hunger strike by veterans protesting the VA also ended in symbolic arrests.

Symbolic arrests are also used by politicians to show solidarity with protesters.

It is a bit odd Berkeley police advertise this service so prominently on their website, but it is Berkeley we’re talking about, a city almost synonymous with public protest.

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