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Black Lives Matter protesters sue over treatment by California police

By Reuters | November 24th 2015

USA: Protesters and journalists covering a Black Lives Matter rally in Berkeley, California, have filed a lawsuit alleging "unconstitutional police attacks" on attendees, court records showed.

The civil rights lawsuit was filed in federal court on Sunday by the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the National Lawyers Guild against the city and police of Berkeley and nearby Hayward. The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages.

The Dec. 6, 2014 march stemmed from the decision days earlier by grand juries in New York City and Ferguson, Missouri, to not criminally charge police officers for killing unarmed, black men, the complaint said.

The Berkeley demonstration was one in a flurry of such protests to erupt in cities across the country over the past year and a half against systemic racism and police violence under the banner of Black Lives Matter.

"The Berkeley Police responded brutally, clubbing peaceful protesters and journalists, often from behind, some in the head, indiscriminately and unnecessarily; and using profligate amounts of teargas without justification," the complaint said.

Representatives for the city of Berkeley and its police force could be immediately reached for comment on Monday.

Among the 11 people filing the lawsuit were a freelance photographer on assignment for the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, three University of California Berkeley students, and a seminary student.

The San Francisco Chronicle described the night as chaotic with hundreds of people chanting and marching in the streets, clashing with police lines, and smaller groups breaking off from the crowd to vandalize property.

Six people were arrested, including two plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, and one police officer was injured, the Chronicle reported.

The lawsuit said police violently handled protesters through the evening, and used tear gas, smoke grenades and shotgun-fired lead-filled bean bags on the large crowd.

The complaint says 20-year-old Berkeley resident Emily Power was repeatedly clubbed and arrested unjustly.

The lawsuit claimed that the plaintiffs' constitutional rights were violated, including the rights to free speech and equal protection under the law.

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