Sproul Plaza 9.November.11

Days of Action

By now, many members of the UC community have seen footage of police retaliation to last week’s gathering on Berkeley’s campus.

If not, please take a moment to watch two videos that have been collected and annotated by Irene Yoon, a doctoral student in English.

“Here, you can see the police suddenly start to attack the protesters without cause. The young man in the front that they keep beating even after he’s unable to get up is a first-year graduate student in my department named Josh Anderson. He was the first of a number of students that had to be taken to the hospital that day. As you can see from the video, neither he, nor any of the other students being beaten with batons strike back at the police with violence. Instead, you can see him, barely able to stand, gingerly raise a peace sign after being repeatedly struck on the head, neck, ribs, and legs.Occupy Cal 1

In the following video, the first woman (in pink) that the police drag out of the crowd by her hair is Professor Celeste Langan, a beloved professor of British Romanticism and media studies in my department and director of the UC Townsend Center for the Humanities. As she places herself in front of students, the police approach her with batons. She repeatedly told the police not to beat her but arrest her instead. You can see here that they responded by dragging her out by force and throwing her to the ground. Occupy Cal 2

What were these students protesting?

1) A proposed 81% tuition hike

2) Increased privatization of the UC system

3) A troubling conflicts of interest between Board of Regents members’ private business interests and their responsibilities to advocate on behalf of the UC community with the State government.

And how were they protesting?

This appears to be the crux of the matter. The university had specifically asked protesters to not encamp; the protesters decided, by a majority vote, to erect tents. The police, representing the university, moved in to take these tents down. When the protesters linked arms and surrounded the tents, the police responded…well…you’ve seen the videos.

Now we can all acknowledge that violence happened. There was, without a doubt, some breach of nonviolence. The question remains, however, where it attached to this situation and by whose action.

In an email addressed to the Campus Community on Thursday.10.November, Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau wrote the following:

 It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by
 linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining
 access to the tents.  This is not non-violent civil disobedience.  By
 contrast, some of the protesters chose to be arrested peacefully; they were
 told to leave their tents, informed that they would be arrested if they did
 not, and indicated their intention to be arrested.  They did not resist
 arrest or try physically to obstruct the police officers' efforts to remove
 the tent.  These protesters were acting in the tradition of peaceful civil
 disobedience, and we honor them.  

 We regret that, given the instruction to take down tents and prevent
 encampment, the police were forced to use their batons to enforce the
 policy.  We regret all injuries, to protesters and police, that resulted
 from this effort.  The campus's Police Review Board will ultimately
 determine whether police used excessive force under the circumstances.  

 We call on the protesters to observe campus policy or, if they choose to
 defy the policy, to engage in truly non-violent civil disobedience and to
 accept the consequences of their decisions.

Simply put, this email leaves me confused and…disappointed. Birgeneau writes that the action of protesters who “chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents…is not non-violent civil disobedience.” He goes on to write that, “given the instructions to take down the tents and prevent the encampment, the police were forced to use their batons to enforce the policy.”

What does this mean? The protesters were not non-violent, and the police were compelled to use their batons?

Birgeneau’s rhetorical slide is interesting. He does not come outright and accuse the protesters of violence, and yet he claims that something compelled the police–that they were acting in retaliation or under some form of compulsion.

So…where did this violence originate?

Inquiring minds want to know.