By Nadia Kazempoor
OAKLAND, CA – Defendant and former mayoral candidate Zachary RunningWolf Brown argued in Davidson Courthouse last Friday at his sentencing that, though he was wrongfully convicted for hate crime and vandalism charges in October against Temple Sinai in Oakland, he accepts the conviction and wishes to move on.
When asked to deliver his concluding statement to the courtroom, Brown—representing himself in court—chose to use his time to assert, “I realize that I have been convicted, wrongfully… It is six months of my life that you’ve ruined.”
In this statement, Brown provided an interesting, yet at times contrasting view of his conviction. He made it clear that he viewed the conviction as wrongful and destructive to his life, yet he made sure to mention early on that he accepts his conviction, nonetheless.
Some may argue that it is simply an attempt to appease the court by accepting his conviction despite its wrongfulness.
However, this seems unlikely, as Brown is notorious for being outspoken in the courtroom and in the general community, and therefore does not seem to possess a care for the court’s opinion of himself.
Brown found it further prudent to clarify, “I ask the court not for leniency. Because this is ridiculous and we all know this is ridiculous.”
Though the defendant remained firm in his beliefs of his wrongful conviction and the failures of the court system, he was unable to provide the court with the necessary witness names or documents to conclude his sentencing.
Judge Delia Trevino made it clear, “This is where you need the advice of an attorney. I’m not able to help you understand legally what you’re giving up and what you’re gaining in this process”
Choosing to represent himself in court, a move that Brown has employed during multiple of his hearings, there was a brief but telling moment of high tension in the courtroom when Brown realized he was not able to be released from Santa Rita Jail today, due to his lack of preparation.
Brown attempted to excuse his lack of necessary material as a result of COVID restrictions, though Judge Trevino quickly shut down his statement and moved forward with the hearing.
It is vital to note that, throughout the entirety of Friday’s hearing, as well as previous hearings dating back years in Brown’s many run-ins with law enforcement as a result of his self-proclaimed activism, he has expressed a large mistrust and dislike of Berkeley’s local government and law enforcement.
As such, Brown attempted to alleviate his general distaste for local government in both 2016 and 2020 when he ran for Mayor of Berkeley. In 2016, he lost the election to current Mayor Jesse Arreguín, leading to a long-term and rather public debacle between the two.
In 2019, the tensions rose to an unsurmountable level as the city of Berkeley filed and was granted a restraining order against Brown, on behalf of Mayor Arreguín. With credible death threats found on RunningWolf’s Twitter account, as well as multiple verbal threats and confrontations recorded, the city found it necessary to take action.
Brown brought up his prior political aspirations when shouting to the courtroom, “I am deeply ashamed by this whole proceeding. I am a mayoral candidate… The people of Berkeley want me in that position.”
Though Brown lost the mayoral election by a significant margin, the fact remains that Brown identifies—and is seen by certain local groups—as a community activist and leader, most notably as a native elder of the Ohlone tribe.
Brown’s case, whether a wrongful conviction on the part of the court, or a refusal to accept guilt and responsibility on the behalf of the defendant, proves to be a difficult situation for the court deal with, especially when acknowledging the pre-existing sense of mistrust common between local government and members of marginalized groups that identify as community activists.
As a case dealing with hate crime and vandalism charges against Temple Sinai in Oakland, stakes were quite high in the sense that the jury, as well as the community, wished to see justice for the act of anti-Semitism committed.
A victim impact statement was provided by Senior Rabbi Jacqeline Mates-Muchin from the Temple Sinai. Regarding the statement, Brown admitted, “I haven’t had time to look at it.”
The defendant’s decision to reveal that he failed, or refused, to read the witness testimony for the crime he was charged with, allowed the courtroom audience to assume that he was not guilty for the pain and hurt he caused to the Jewish community, and more specifically to Temple Sinai.
Brown was quick to exclaim that “the Jewish community does support me.”
Ultimately, the defendant was granted two years of probation, hefty fines, and is to be released from custody this upcoming Monday. It is still unclear whether RunningWolf was actually wrongfully convicted, or if this was an excuse on his part to be released from jail earlier than the jury desired.
Nadia Kazempoor is a court watch reporter for The Vanguard at Berkeley. She is a freshman Political Science student at Cal, originally from Huntington Beach, CA.
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