Videos of police attacking students and professors:
Letter from Berkeley Graduate Students
You might have heard by now of the police violence against students, faculty and supporters last week on my campus, UC Berkeley. If for no other reason than filling out the scant picture that's been drawn in the media, I wanted to forward the thorough account my good friend, Irene, put together, distilling why students had gathered in (announced and administration-approved) peaceful protest in the first place, what happened after that, and why many of us - in cooperation with high schools, community colleges, and K-12 - are striking this coming Tuesday, November 15. Some of our grievances might be familiar to you from experiences on your campuses, but hopefully none of the violence will be:
"As I'm sure many of you have heard by now, this past week at UC Berkeley, several thousand students, faculty, and employees of the university came together to protest a proposed 81% tuition hike, the increased privatization of the UC system, the troubling conflicts of interest demonstrated by Board of Regents members' private business interests and their responsibilities to advocate on behalf of the UC community with the State government. While, for example, the governing body of the UC Regents (publicly appointed officials of the State of California) and campus administration have decided that the burden of making up losses in the budget crisis should fall heavily on students through rapidly rising tuition (the current figure is already triple what it was ten years ago) and on members of faculty and staff who've received reductions in pay and increased workloads--or have been laid off entirely, the current Regents have invested at least $1.5 billion of the UC's money in projects in which many of them personally hold significant stakes and also authorized $3 million in bonuses to top administrators last year alone.
These are some of the reasons why so many people (myself included) gathered together on Wednesday to stand in peaceful protest in front of Sproul Hall. In addition to organizing numerous teach-ins, a rally, march, and campus-wide walkout, students also hoped to set up a two-day encampment in the spirit of the other Occupy movements around the country to create a public forum for discussion and education about the current financial situation of the university and the condition of public education in the country today. All day, the crowd was gathered in explicitly peaceful assembly to petition our government for a redress of grievances. As the university first responded by the early afternoon not with administrators to enter into dialogue, but with hundreds of riot police, some students even took the time to recite the first amendment to police and protesters alike.
Whether or not you agree with the reasons for the protests, however, I would hope that you would all at least share my horror at what followed. As hundreds of students linked arms to form a human chain around the one tent they had (the few others they had tried to set up were ripped down and confiscated by the police with no warning earlier in the day), riot police began beating them mercilessly without warning or provocation. Some of you may have seen the following clips already:
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. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buovLQ9qyWQ
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 of 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. As you can see here, they respond by dragging her out by force and throw her to the ground. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNHXuf6qJas&feature=player_embedded
When the police violence occurred again later that night, they broke the ribs of another English professor, poet Geoffrey O'Brien. When the police wouldn't stop beating him even after he too had fallen to the ground, a good friend and fellow graduate student, Ben Cullen, rushed in and demanded that they stop. The police, in turn, rained multiple blows on him, bruising his ribs as well. And just in case it's not clear yet that the violence was not only against 'some kids looking to make a fuss,' the police also thought it necessary jab 70-year-old former Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Hass several times in the stomach with a baton as well.
I could go on with more horrifying accounts and recorded footage of the brutality the UCPD and Alameda County Sheriffs inflicted upon my friends, professors, and students, but I will stop here to say that for all the mainstream media coverage after the day's events alternatively insisted upon UC protesters "violently clashing with police" or the fact that police were forced into "nudging" students with batons--
1) I've never been more proud to be a UC Berkeley student seeing the firmness with which every protester held to his or her commitment of nonviolent resistance. More beautifully and successfully perhaps than its Occupy counterpart in Oakland, the Cal protesters responded instead throughout the evening with chants of "Peaceful protest!" and even briefly, "Bubbles not batons!" (Yes, some students gathered around midnight started some impromptu bubble-blowing in crowd. Got to love them hippy kids, right? But... seriously. I do.) The idea of protesters clashing with police implies violence on both sides. That was absolutely (and to be perfectly honest, given the police's behavior, quite surprisingly) not the case.
2) As for the AP's account of police "nudging" students with batons-- well, Steven Colbert does a nice job of lampooning what is already patently ridiculous about that here: http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/402024/november-10-2011/occupy-u-c--berkeley?xrs=share_fb
Hundreds of faculty and graduate student instructors, myself [and Monica] included, have signed the following open letter to UC Chancellor Robert Birgeneau who is responsible for the police response: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/uc_berkeley_teachers_condemn_violence/. In addition to making a statement of no confidence in the UC Regents and administration, many of us are also demanding the resignation of Birgeneau and the UCPD Chief of Police, Mitchell Celaya. The ACLU and National Lawyers' Guild have demanded records of the events from the UCPD and Alameda County Sheriff's offices.
Please consider helping by contacting either Chancellor Birgeneau or Chief of Police Celaya's office to voice your concern, demands, outrage-- whatever. More concretely, you can ask for their removal from office, for their compliance with the ACLU and National Lawyers' Guild's requests, for Chancellor Birgeneau to make the investigation of excessive violence open to external review (it's currently being delegated to an in-house board), or, y'know, for the university to stop terrorizing members of the community that both comprise it and whom the UCPD are supposedly there to protect. Parents and loved ones of Cal students-- or at least this one!-- feel free to call and simply say, "Hey, I'd like you not to beat my child/friend/loved one who is a student at Cal and/or to think it would be okay to do so, please. Thanks." Anything you could do to help would be much appreciated. This violence is not only of a physical nature against the students, faculty, and employees of Cal, but also against the very idea and purpose of higher education itself. It cannot be allowed to continue.
Their information is below."
Just to add more perspective to what Irene already so thoughtfully put together, here are some of the better accounts I've read, too: First, this is Chancellor Birgeneau's email from November 10 to the Berkeley community the day after the police violence on Wednesday, in which he justifies the use of force against non-violent students and faculty, insisting that linking arms is "not non-violent." http://zungu.tumblr.com/post/12620438282/message-to-campus-community
Here is a response by UC Irvine Professor Rei Terada (from Comparative Literature) to Chancellor Birgeneau's allegation of "not non-violent" tactics: http://workwithoutdread.blogspot.com/2011/11/not-non-violent-civil-disobedience.html
This is another friend's response to the arbitrary nature of the police power on campus in these last few days. It is, in large part, an effort to try to understand how the university's administration, whose task is, ostensibly, to support the education of young people, could justify harming the same: http://zunguzungu.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/the-grass-is-closed-what-i-have-learned-about-power-from-the-police-chancellor-birgeneau-and-occupy-cal/
And, last, this is a dispiriting story from the Nation, comparing the riots at Penn State (defending football coach Joe Paterno) to the peaceful protests on my campus. You might have seen this one already, as it was making the Facebook rounds in the last couple days: http://www.thenation.com/blog/164535/penn-state-and-berkeley-tale-two-protests
I know you're all busy people, with full lives and lots of responsibilities. So thank you, first, for making it this far. We all really appreciate it. If you are moved to, please consider signing the petition linked to above, contacting the Office of the Chancellor or the UC Chief of Police (their information is below), or forwarding this to people who might send their energy and support to students and faculty at Cal, and, really, to public education in California more generally.
Thank you, again, for taking the time to read.
Thank you, again, for taking the time to read.
Monica Huerta and Irene Yoon
Graduate Students in English
UC - Berkeley