Documenting OPD Protocols and the Finer Points of #J28 Police-work

How, as a police officer, should you go about policing an Occupy protest?

It’s not the sort of question I’ve spent much time thinking about, and I’m realizing that’s a mistake. I refer you, therefore, to the OPD Crowd Control and Management Policy Bulletin (via). Of particular note is this portion, which appears on page 6:

“It is essential to recognize that all members of a crowd of demonstrators are not the same. Even when some members of a crowd engage in violence or destruction of property, other members of the crowd are not participating in those acts. Once some members of a crowd become violent, the situation often turns chaotic, and many individuals in the crowd who do not want to participate in the violent or destructive acts may be blocked from leaving the scene because the crowd is so large or because they are afraid they will move into a position of heightened danger.

This understanding does not mean OPD cannot take enforcement action against the crowd as permitted under this policy, but OPD shall seek to minimize the risk that force and arrests may be directed at innocent persons.”

Here is a video taken by this person, who happened to live across the street from where OPD tried to kettle the protesters at 19th and Telegraph. I’m posting it because the visibility is amazing. These nighttime skirmishes are hard to follow or understand, especially if your spatial intelligence (like mine), is subnormal.

It’s 13 minutes long, but I recommend watching at least the first 6 minutes if you want to get a comprehensive bird’s-eye view of how OPD is policing these protests.

What’s interesting about this is how OPD manufactures the very condition it’s supposed to avoid: they are blocking people from leaving the scene. They are creating precisely the “position of heightened danger” they’re supposed to be trying to defuse. (Watch the flash bangs and smoke bombs get hurled into the trapped crowd.)

Much has been made of the protesters pushing down the fences here. I didn’t understand the circumstances that led up that until I saw this video. Nor, I imagine, do people fully understand what protesters meant when they clarified, contra the typically dunder-headed news coverage, that when they ran into the YMCA later that night, they weren’t “occupying” it, they were literally running away from the police. The staff inside the YMCA was kind enough to let them in so they could escape through the back exit. Until the police caught on and blocked them in.

Again, this isn’t hearsay; there’s footage. Here’s video of protesters begging YMCA staff to let them in, and video of the police closing in, creating the kettle:

The police blocked everyone in, some 500 people, blocking all exits, then ordered them, absurdly, to “disperse”.

To reiterate: they trapped these people, leaving them nowhere to go. All exits had been blocked—by police.

The crowd started yelling “Let us go! Let us go!”

And there’s evidence: people tweeted as they were getting kettled:

People tweeted from inside the kettle:

Here is what it sounds like to be trapped inside that kettle with hundreds of people–reporter Susie Cagle, who was stuck in the kettle and also arrested (then “unarrested), has audio. Overheard: “This guy might have a broken leg.” And Cagle herself saying “where can we go”? to police.

Here’s what an NYT reporter tweeted while watching the livestream (in real time, obviously):

And here is what reporter Gavin Aronsen of Mother Jones tweeted while actually inside the kettle, where he would eventually be arrested:

Then the police announced this, via megaphone:

Here is audio of that announcement, again via Cagle’s audio, which includes audio of her arrest, and of the officer turning off her recorder after she tells him she’s a journalist.

To reiterate: the police arrested 409 protesters after kettling them in, for failing to disperse after they had made it literally impossible for them to do so.

Now, go back to the excerpt from the OPD training manual I posted above.

Boiled down to the essentials, they are:

1) Recognize that all protesters are not the same.

2) If things get crazy, realize that it’s likely to be a small group, and that many people will want to leave.

3) Those who want to leave might not, either because the crowd is just too big or they’re afraid of heightened danger.

4) Minimize arrests, and do everything possible to avoid arresting innocent people.

  • The OPD did the opposite of #1, arresting 409 people indiscriminately, including members of the press.
  • OPD did not react to “people getting chaotic,” instead, as shown in the video above, their strategy has become producing chaos. By, for instance, suddenly charging a crowd of hundreds of people with batons, flash-bangs and smoke bombs.
  • They did not recognize that whatever provocations there may have been were the actions of a select few, and they actively ignored a chorus of hundreds of people begging to leave.
  • Rather than create a space so that those who wished to leave could do so safely (minimizing the “heightened danger” that might keep people from risking departure), they created the “heightened danger” mentioned in #3. They did this, I reiterate, by beating people with batons, and throwing various smoke-producing and noise-producing devices into the trapped crowd.
  • They issued an order that they themselves made it impossible to obey, then arrested everyone for noncompliance.
  • They did not minimize arrests of innocent people. They maximized them.
  • They arrested several journalists despite being explicitly told that they were press. For a detailed history of how that went down, see this Storify.

This stuff is worth reviewing and documenting with some pedantry because it’s just so terrifically easy to dismiss accounts of what happened in the heat of the moment. Late at night, in front of one building or another, in downtown Oakland. Particularly when those accounts are issued after the fact. We’re a skeptical public, too used to being “related at” by PR wanks. Everyone wears their cynicism on their sleeve, integrity’s dead and everyone’s a liar. Oh, the reader thinks, that protester said she got shoved around? Huh. We might not go so far as to say “She lies!”, but we shove it aside for later, which is the same, these days, as forgetting.

(I’m not praising this tendency, incidentally, but I am noting that it exists, and that it’s radically changing the standards of proof that sway public opinion.)

When there’s video, things are a little different. When people are tweeting in real time, things are different. When a total stranger is filming the events across the street from him, things are different. Those things add up to a much more complicated story, and it becomes more complicated still when we bother to read the rules governing good police-work. That “good police-work” has come to be something of an oxymoron in the mind of many of an Oaklander in no way absolves us from looking seriously at what good police-work should be. In cases like this, looking at the details means we gain the authority to stare back at police claiming we’re breaking laws, whose authority is considerably diminished when they’re so flagrantly violating their own.

The same is true for stories of fences being pushed down, of protesters “storming” the YMCA, of the things many of the 409 arrested protesters were charged with. (One of them is “Failure to leave the scene of a riot.”) All these news bits are so much messier. Even now, 48 hours since their arrest, over 100 people are still stuck in Santa Rita Jail, being “processed.” If the police are taking that long to process people, let’s take the time to process them too.

Sources on the Port Action on December 12

I’m trying to educate myself about the port action, how corporations and unions understand the port of Oakland, how it pertains to the truckers and the city as well as the Occupy movement. I’ll be updating this all day. In the meantime:

    1. Section 717.3 talks about funds and how they’re allocated. Ninth and last on that list is the item concerning how monies could (conceivably, but never practically) return to the City of Oakland: “Ninth: For transfer to the General Fund of the City, to the extent that the Board shall determine that surplus moneys exist in such fund which are not then needed for any of the purposes above stated.”
    2. Surprising (to me—I’m new to city charters) was the conflation of transportation by sea, land, and air, such that hubs for all three fall under the Board of the Port of Oakland’s jurisdiction:

Section 717 (1). All Port facilities, airport facilities and terminal facilities of any kind or character are hereby consolidated and shall be operated as a single project by the Board in the interest of transportation by land, by sea and by air, it being hereby found and determined that transportation facilities of all classes implement and augment each other to such an extent that the same must in the public interest be operated singly and under one central supervision and control. Wherever in this Charter the terms “port”, “project”, or “facilities” are used, the same shall include all facilities under the jurisdiction of the Board, irrespective of whether the same shall be port or airport facilities or other real or personal property or equipment of the Port and related improvements, structures or facilities.

  1. Section 726 explains that the Board’s power includes the ability to apply terms, conditions and limits to federal uses of the port and its surroundings:

Section 726. Without denial or disparagement of other powers now held by or that may hereafter be given to the City of Oakland or its legislative bodies under or by the Constitution or the laws of the State of California, the City Council and Board of Port Commissioners are hereby authorized and empowered to grant and convey all or any portion of or interest in the tidelands and submerged lands located in the Middle Harbor area of the City, lying between the Estuary of San Antonio and Seventh Street, and westward of Bay Street extended southerly, to the United States of America for public and governmental (including military or naval) purposes, subject to such terms, conditions, and reservations, if any, as the Council and Board shall deem proper.

      • A thorough and extremely useful overview of the tensions surrounding the port action–thanks to Evan Rohar and Eduardo Soriano-Castillo at Labor Notes (via @AhabLives).
      • Emily Loftis’ article for Salon on how Occupy is redemocratizing labor, and how the unions are caught in an uncomfortable place between occupiers and the Democratic Party. This piece is not without its problems; see the comments for why.
      • ILWU International President Robert McEllrath’s letter rejecting Occupy solidarity—and asking that Occupiers not mention the dispute with EGT as a reason for the port occupation. Raises the neverending (and, to my mind, insoluble) question of what “solidarity” means, particularly when it’s unwanted.
      • Gavin Aronsen’s article for Mother Jones on the scope of the projected shutdown and the complicated question of union involvement.
      • A summary of the conflict between ILWU and EGT at Labor Notes: “EGT Development, a consortium of three companies, wants to operate its new $200 million grain terminal in Longview using non-ILWU labor, despite a contract with the port requiring it to do so. When the ILWU protested, the company signed up with an Operating Engineers local.” (This story is illustrated with a photo of ILWU International President Robert McEllrath being detained by police.)

In a series of protests since July, ILWU members and supporters sat down on train tracks and occupied the new terminal, resulting in 100 arrests. As picketing continued, no trains had attempted to bring in grain shipments since July. But last week a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order at the request of the National Labor Relations Board, which said ILWU pickets had harassed EGT workers.

    • An open letter from America’s Port Truck Drivers on Occupy the Ports–especially important, since the truckers are the most vulnerable members of this whole mess, and probably suffered the greatest (proportionate) economic hardship as a result of both the port action and of the lack of a union:

Today’s demonstrations will impact us. While we cannot officially speak for every worker who shares our occupation, we can use this opportunity to reveal what it’s like to walk a day in our shoes for the 110,000 of us in America whose job it is to be a port truck driver. It may be tempting for media to ask questions about whether we support a shutdown, but there are no easy answers. Instead, we ask you, are you willing to listen and learn why a one-word response is impossible?

    • Steve Stallone at Counterpunch outlines the history of this kind of action, particularly as it pertains to the ILWU. He characterizes the Occupy movement as picking up on a long ILWU, and explains the goals of the shutdown:

This time the Occupiers are doing it to highlight the nasty anti-union tactics of a major international food and grain conglomerate, Export Grain Terminal (EGT), whose majority owner, Bunge Ltd. is a multi-national company busting unions from Texas to Bulgaria to Argentina and is also deeply involved with corporate takeover of food systems, displacing local agriculture with soybean monoculture. EGT is trying to break the labor standards and jurisdiction of the ILWU by bringing in scabs to load their grain ships at the Port of Longview.

In Southern California, at the huge port complex of Los Angeles/Long Beach, the Occupy blockades are adding another political target. They will focus on the terminal of one of the worst offenders of the 1% on the Coast—Stevedoring Services of America (SSA)—to highlight the plight of the port truckers. These “independent contractors,” mostly immigrant workers who haul the shipped containers to warehouses and other points of destination, have been trying to organize into the Teamsters for over a decade so they could bargain and raise their pathetic pay.

December 12th Shutdown of the Port of Oakland in Photos

Working on a piece on Dec. 12 for the Occupy Gazette. In the meantime, here are a lot of photos of the morning at the port.

This is a map of the route protesters took to the Port of Oakland:

They started around 5:30 a.m. at the red star on this map (close to the West Oakland BART station) and marched all the way (roughly) to the blue star on the far left. Middle Harbor Shoreline Park connected to the two sets of berths that the protesters took up: 30-32 and 55-57.

A group of bikers went on ahead earlier. The pedestrians marched behind them, with the police bringing up the rear. Here’s what that looked like, from the point of view of the marchers, in the eerie early morning:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The crowd split in two–some went to berths 55-57, others went to 30-32. The futuristic looking white building is behind the gates at berths 30-32. Slowly the sun rises, the truckers line up, the police line up, and various events happen which I will elaborate on when time permits. In the meantime, here are some images, which I hope do something to capture the wild solitary weirdness of the Port of Oakland, even when it’s “occupied.”



UC Berkeley Department of Mathematics Letter to Chancellor Birgeneau

The full text can be found here, with all 61 signatories.

“We, the undersigned members of the Department of Mathematics at UC Berkeley, strongly condemn the actions of the UC Berkeley and Alameda County police forces on Wednesday, November 9. It is our assessment that officers in those forces attacked students who were plainly not engaged in violent activity. We maintain that the use of violence against peaceful protesters is not justified. Therefore, we ask that Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, on behalf of the University community, rescind his message of November 10 condoning the conduct of the police. We call upon the Chancellor to take all necessary steps to ensure that the campus police never again attack unarmed students engaged in peaceful protest.”


In Which UC Davis Physics Faculty Call for Chancellor Katehi’s resignation.

Via The original, as a .pdf, is here.

Chancellor Linda Katehi November 22, 2011
UC Davis

Dear Chancellor Katehi:

With a heavy heart and substantial deliberation, we the undersigned faculty of
the UC Davis physics department send you this letter expressing our lack of
confidence in your leadership and calling for your prompt resignation in the wake
of the outrageous, unnecessary, and brutal pepper spraying episode on campus
Friday, Nov. 18

The reasons for this are as follows.

• The demonstrations were nonviolent, and the student encampments
posed no threat to the university community. The outcomes of sending in
police in Oakland, Berkeley, New York City, Portland, and Seattle should
have led you to exhaust all other options before resorting to police action.

• Authorizing force after a single day of encampments constitutes a gross
violation of the UC Davis principles of community, especially the
commitment to civility: “We affirm the right of freedom of expression within
our community and affirm our commitment to the highest standards of
civility and decency towards all.”

• Your response in the aftermath of these incidents has failed to restore
trust in your leadership in the university community.

We have appreciated your leadership during these difficult times on working to
maintain and enhance excellence at UC Davis. However, this incident and the
inadequacy of your response to it has already irreparably damaged the image of
UC Davis and caused the faculty, students, parents, and alumni of UC Davis to
lose confidence in your leadership. At this point we feel that the best thing that
you can do for this university is to take full responsibility and resign immediately.

Our campus community deserves a fresh start.

Andreas Albrecht
Marusa Bradac
Steve Carlip
Hsin-Chia Cheng
Maxwell Chertok
John Conway
Daniel Cox
James P. Crutchfield
Glen Erickson
Chris Fassnacht
Daniel Ferenc
Ching Fong
Giulia Galli
Nemanja Kaloper
Joe Kiskis
Lloyd Knox
Dick Lander
Lori Lubin
Markus Luty
Michael Mulhearn
David Pellett
Wendell Potter
Sergey Savrasov
Richard Scalettar
Robert Svoboda
John TerningMani Tripathi
David Webb
David Wittman
Dong Yu
Gergely Zimanyi

The Chancellor’s Statement On How “Professionally” Police Dealt With Protesters Was Written The Day Before the Protest

I have to preface this by saying I feel like an idiot for spending all that time “detecting” duplicity in the Chancellor’s and the President’s letters to us, when they were gleefully admitting to it all along in their e-mails. Then again, I guess it’s good to have proof.

Via reclaimuc comes this selection from a California Public Records Request which revealed a 300+ page pdf of email correspondence between UC Berkeley deans, chancellors, public relations officers, cops on how to stop the building occupations in Fall 2009.

What follows appears on p. 243. It’s an account of that Friday’s arrests, written in its entirety on Thursday, the day before anything had happened. With a note: “We will need UCPD to fill in the blanks asap Friday morning.”

Chancellor Birgeneau replies, asking that the protesters not be referred to as “activists” because that gives them “gravitas,” and requests that a quote from him be added expressing his admiration for the professional way in which the police removed the illegal protesters.


This says everything we need to know about the good faith with which the administration has been operating.

From: Janet Gilmore []
Sent: Thursday, December 10, 2009 6:45
To: Claire Holmes
Cc:,,, Margo Bennett
Subject: Draft Wheeler brief for web

Take a look, change as needed and please get to California Hall OK, as needed. We will need UCPD to fill in the blanks asap Friday morning.


University of California, Berkeley, police arrested xxx trespassing student activists and other protesters this morning (Friday, Dec. 11), hours before the group was set to hold an unauthorized concert inside a classroom building.

According to UC police, xxx individuals were arrested and cited for XXXXXX at XXX {time} this morning {XXX and taken to XXXX jail/Or cited and released!}. The group included xxx students and xxx individuals not affiliated with UC Berkeley.

The activists, who have been protesting against student fee increases and other issues, had maintained an illegal though largely nondisruptive 24-hour presence inside Wheeler Hall since Monday.

However, by week’s end the group began announcing plans for an unauthorized concert featuring guest artists and a DJ — an event that threatened to disrupt final examinations scheduled to take place in that same building on Saturday.

Campus staff spoke with the organizers about the issue, but the activists vowed to go forward. Their publicity materials stated that the concert would begin Friday night and would end “8 a.m. Saturday” and until “the cops kick in the doors.” Final examinations are set to begin inside Wheeler Hall at 9 a.m. Saturday.

“Once the activists refused to reconsider plans to hold an unauthorized all-night concert in an academic building we had to take steps to ensure that finals could go forward,” said Dan Mogulof, campus spokesman. “Our primary responsibility is to the campus’s core academic mission and the 35,000 students who are not participating in the activists’ efforts.”

Campus police are currently monitoring access to Wheeler Hall to ensure that only authorized faculty and staff are allowed in. Classroom review sessions that were scheduled to take place inside Wheeler today will instead take place in XXXXX and as indicated on fliers posted outside of XXXX.

Wheeler Hall is one of the campus’s largest classroom buildings and is open for campus business daily until 10 p.m. The trespassing group, which ranged from a dozen to several dozen at any given time this week, were not authorized to hold events inside the building; nor to sleep in the building overnight. Police cautioned activists every night this week — including Thursday night — that they were subject to arrest and student conduct code sanctions for their actions.

The activists entered Wheeler Hall on Monday and since then had set up information tables inside the building, stashed food and refreshments, posted banners, strummed guitars, played late-night music and declared the building an “open university.” Early in the week they appeared to be taking steps to ensure that their activities would not conflict with classroom review sessions underway inside the building.

p. 245

From: Robert J. Birgeneau
Sent: Thursday, December 10, 2009 8:59 PM
To: ‘Claire Holmes’; Beata Fitzpatrick’; George Breslauer’; ‘Phyllis Hoffman’
Cc: ‘Janet Gilmore’
Subject: RE: DRAFT text for Wheeler story

Hi Claire,
I agree with the basic message. However, we need to find a new word other than “activists” to describe the protesters; that descriptor gives them too much gravitas. I prefer: intruders, occupiers, and/or protesters. Also, assuming that everything goes according to plan, I would like a quote expressing my admiration for the very professional way in which the police managed to apprehend and remove the illegal occupiers.


UPDATE: And again thanks to reclaimuc, here is how the statement actually appeared the next day. Some differences between the draft above and the statement as it ran are as follows, as noted by reclaimuc (who you should really follow—reclaimuc—because they broke this story over a year ago):

  1. the word “activist” is completely removed as per birgeneau’s request;
  2. they added a quote for birgeneau in which he praises the police;
  3. they removed the only sentence talking about what the “activists” were protesting about (tuition increases, etc);
  4. I’m struck by how they manufacture quotes. e.g. mogulof’s quote had the word “activist” and they changed it to “group.”

Dear Mark Yudof: The Cemetery You Manage Can Hear You

Why Are UC Administrators Such Bad Letter Writers, And Why Should We Care?

Ask around, and you’ll find it has become a UC-wide habit to disregard letters from the UC administration. I don’t know whether this is the case for the administrators themselves—there is a rumor circulating that Chancellor Birgeneau, for example, did not in fact write the notorious “not nonviolence” letter to which he signed his name. (The claim is that an underling did.) I choose to ignore that rumor, not because it might not be true, but because it’s magnificently irrelevant. He signed his name to it, he allowed it to be sent from his account, and he must be held accountable for the messages he sends to the campus community. The question of authorship is purely, ahem, academic. If we grant someone else writing in his name as a mitigating circumstance, we become complicit in the cataclysmic devaluation of communication between the administration and the university. That devaluation has become a defining feature of President Yudof’s tenure as UC President.

President Yudof’s First Principles Of Language and Management, In His Own Words

Let’s begin with President Yudof’s now-infamous remarks to the New York Times following painful pay cuts:

NYT: Already professors on all 10 U.C. campuses are taking required “furloughs,” to use a buzzword.

MY: Let me tell you why we used it. The faculty said “furlough” sounds more temporary than “salary cut,” and being president of the University of California is like being manager of a cemetery: there are many people under you, but no one is listening. I listen to them.

NYT: The word “furlough,” I recently read, comes from the Dutch word “verlof,” which means permission, as in soldiers’ getting permission to take a few days off. How has it come to be a euphemism for salary cuts?

MY: Look, I’m from West Philadelphia. My dad was an electrician. We didn’t look up stuff like this. It wasn’t part of what we did. When I was growing up we didn’t debate the finer points of what the word “furlough” meant.

NYT: How did you get into education?

MY: I don’t know. It’s all an accident. I thought I’d go work for a law firm.

To sum up: to illustrate how well he listens to his faculty, President Yudof first compares them to corpses, then boasts that he agreed to let them call their salary cuts “furloughs” if that would make them happier. All the while criticizing them for refusing to hear what he is saying. Oceans of contempt, all wrapped up in three short sentences.

Listening to President Yudof

That’s what President Mark Yudof describes in his own words as good management and good listening. I want to note that before proceeding. I’m writing this post partly to show President Mark Yudof that despite his sense that “no one is listening” to him in the cemetery he manages, several of us are. We heard his complaint, we took it under advisement, and we are listening, very carefully, to everything he says.

Here, for example, is President Yudof’s statement on November 20, the same day that over 60,000 people signed a petition for UC Davis Chancellor Katehi to resign. Here’s what he said on Twitter:

It’s a bold stand. Encouraging, hopeful. If you want to know how it turns out—how all that power translates to any kind of concrete change, however minimal, fast-forward to the end of this ridiculously long post.

If this were a different day, I’d shrug this off as just another administrative lie. I might even joke about it, the way countless people in offices do every day. But it dawned on me today that this is not an office. It is not a corporation. Not yet. And we just can’t laugh darkly about it all anymore. We can’t sigh at the contradictions that come from these offices, because their consequences are grave, and there are real bodies involved.

So here’s a brief history of the President and the Chancellor as told in their own words, words I will respect even if they do not.

A good starting point is President Yudof’s response to the events of November 9, when students and faculty were beaten and arrested, including 70-year old former poet-laureate Bob Hass and his wife, who was knocked to the ground. In addition to many statements broadly in support of free expression on campus, it contains this sentence:

Like Chancellor Birgeneau, I was distressed by what I saw, both as a parent and as president of the University of California.”

As a careful reader, you might well wonder exactly how distressed Chancellor Birgeneau was by what he saw, since President Mark Yudof is (in a stab at solidarity) equating his distress with the Chancellor’s. To understand Yudof and the entire system he has fomented, then, we need to first understand his underling.

Chancellor Birgeneau at UC Berkeley

Let’s start with Chancellor Birgeneau’s first letter, the one he wrote in response to those same November 9 events, written before he realized anyone cared. In the following two excerpts, note the use of “we”; Chancellor Birgeneau is aggressively aligning his viewpoint with the police, and making it clear that he is part of the “we” that carried out those actions:

We regret that, in spite of forewarnings, we encountered a situation where, to uphold our policy, we were required to forcibly remove tents and arrest people.”

And this:

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.

Stern use of the first person plural, full of paternalistic “regret” that the students forced the police to use their batons. It’s the speech parents give to their children after a spanking. Tough love. The Chancellor is counting himself among the “we” who encountered a situation where “we” were required to forcibly remove tents and arrest people. He was there—that pronoun implies—like any good parent (or administrator) would be, watching the situation unfold and determining, based on all the facts, that this was the appropriate course of action.

Putting the Chancellor on pause for a moment, briefly recall that President Yudof said that Chancellor Birgeneau was “distressed” by what he saw. I invite you to comb through Birgeneau’s letter for signs of distress. To me, claims of “regretting” being forced to use batons notwithstanding, it reads more like grim approbation.

To what, then, is President Yudof be referring, when he likens Birgeneau’s distress to his own?

He’s referring to Chancellor Birgeneau, v. 2.0: Shocked, Saddened, Surprised.

The Chancellor’s second letter was issued in response to widespread shock and extremely unfavorable media coverage as videos of the beatings at UC Berkeley went viral. In this second edition, the Chancellor goes to great lengths to insist that the “we” that he employed so authoritatively in his earlier letter did not, in point of physical fact, include him. He was out of the country, he says. Moreover, he had not even bothered to watch the footage of police officers yanking tenured faculty by the hair to the ground before writing his letter approving of all they did. Here’s that confession:

While away, I remained in intermittent contact with Provost George Breslauer and other members of our leadership team and was kept informed, as much as possible, about the Occupy Cal activities on campus. However, it was only yesterday that I was able to look at a number of the videos that were made of the protests on November 9. These videos are very disturbing.

Let’s be absolutely clear about what happened: in the first letter, Chancellor Birgeneau spoke in the chiding tones of a disappointed father who was deeply interested in his children’s welfare. He and the police were contiguous, indistinguishable agents–“we” did this, and “we” did it in your own best interest.

He concludes that first letter like any good father would, with a plea, again voiced as coming from both himself and the police:

We urge you to consider the fact that there are so many time-tested ways to have your voices heard without violating the one condition we have asked you to abide by.

In light of the second letter, this is an astonishing piece of chutzpah.

No, no it isn’t—there’s the temptation to joke again. To be sarcastic. To refuse to take this seriously.

To beat your already beaten campus with that pronoun, to blame them, and then admit you were doing it without cause is not bold. It is not funny. It is astoundingly irresponsible.

Word choice seems trivial much of the time. “We” or “I,” “distress” or “regret.” But this use of “we” is not to be taken lightly. It is not a mistake to be cosmetically airbrushed out of the record. It is a persistent, unapologetic use of that pronoun “we” to drive home that he was in full control of what had gone on, and that he approved of it. It’s a rhetorical choice, the utter baselessness of which is revealed, in that second letter, through the admission that he had exactly none of the information he claimed to have carefully considered when making his first assessment of campus events.

This is a dead horse worth beating: the Chancellor of UC Berkeley unapologetically authorized the police action against faculty and students and unapologetically supported that decision, claiming both responsibility for the action and knowledge of the circumstances: he represents himself as part of the “we” that “encountered” a situation that forced police to use inexcusable violence.

You don’t get to walk away from that particular kind of mendacity, no matter how many letters you issue. Here’s why: it’s symptomatic of an institution whose checks and balances are sick, whose appeals processes are broken, and whose administrators appear to speak only in terms of what makes good or bad press.

It’s likely that the Chancellor wrote that letter, not maliciously, but carelessly. That does not make it better; it makes it worse. It reveals that this is a practice that isn’t limited to one Chancellor or to one day—it’s a pattern, a habit, a system. He wrote with the easy knowledge that he would be believed, that his was the definitive word, despite his distance and ignorance from the events in question. He wrote while distracted, assuming that no one who mattered was likely to question his account. (Students would know the truth, of course, and so would faculty—but they don’t matter much when it comes to PR, and they were probably asking for it anyway.)

The narrative the Chancellor produced was that he was supervising his campus security, that he had the students’ welfare at heart, and that he had rigorously checked all the facts before determining that quality control, when it came to campus policing, was top-notch and no serious review was necessary.

His situation is in fact precisely analogous to this one:

President Yudof Responds to UC Berkeley Beatings

So how did President Mark Yudof respond to this embarrassment? Here’s his statement again, which you can read in full if you’re so inclined. After his students’ rights were flagrantly violated and his chancellor publicly admitted to real misconduct, what steps did the President take?

At UC Berkeley, a process is in place to review the violence of last week.

That’s the only action mentioned in the statement. “A process is in place” which will “review” the violence of last week.

I’m amazed that it takes a lowly blogger writing at 1:00 in the morning to point this out, but that is not a response. That is a euphemism swaddled in the passive voice. It is a set of words which, strung together, responds to none of what it purports to address. What it does communicate is that we are to take it on trust from this administration that they will “review everything” and come to the correct conclusion—this despite the fact that our Chancellor, who will doubtless be involved in selecting the “reviewers,” made a catastrophic error in judgment that he had no problem communicating to the public until he was forced (by bad publicity, not through ordinary channels) to reconsider.

(I doubt I need to explain why the phrase “a process is in place” is meaningless, but just in case, here are some initial questions one might ask: what sort of process? Overseen by whom? How are conflicts of interest being handled? On what timeline? What precisely is being investigated? The relevant facts are on video and have been widely “reviewed.” Several faculty and students have written firsthand accounts. The facts are out and do not require laborious reconstruction. The question is, how will you move forward in light of those facts?)

However, having assured us that there will be a review of something at some point, President Yudof gives the chancellors their due:

Whether there or elsewhere, I have absolute confidence that our chancellors will do what is right and necessary to ensure that the campuses where our students live and learn provide an environment for robust but peaceful discourse.

He may have absolute confidence—that is of course his prerogative.

The campus community does not share that confidence, and that is the material point—a point whose significance the President seems to miss.

To put it another way, the President may hold the opinion that his chancellors will do all that is good and true despite clear evidence to the contrary, but his opinion in no way trumps university-wide outrage.

That he thinks it does and behaves accordingly is, again, symptomatic of what happens when the president of a public university starts thinking of himself as a CEO. This university is not a corporation. Yet. 

I submit, moreover, that the campus community’s judgement is demonstrably better than President Yudof’s, given that Chancellor Katehi defended the UCPD using military-grade pepper-spray on seated students less than a week after Yudof’s letter was written. More about UC Davis in a moment.

Whatever his personal response may have been, President Yudof’s professional response was laughably inadequate. (No. No no. Again, no one is laughing.) A responsible administrator’s response to an objection which can be roughly paraphrased as “you have publicly admitted to refusing to take our concerns seriously” cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be “we will take your concerns seriously this time no really we will we promise.” Not unless that administrator sees the university he is administrating as (for example) a cemetery full of corpses that can be pacified by substituting the word “furlough” for what are in fact “salary cuts.”

It’s not entirely surprising that an administrator who paraphrases his faculty’s objection to their salary cuts as an objection to the title of the cuts rather than the cuts themselves would consider the phrase “a process is in place” to be a commensurate response to his faculty’s broken ribs. President Yudof, who was essentially hired to privatize the University, is already running it as he would a corporation, paying lip-service to the mission statement but proceeding along different, rather more pragmatic lines that only he and the trustees (er, Regents) have any real right to know.

There are environments in which he would be right. That kind of protocolese would be perfectly appropriate in a corporate setting. It’s unfortunate for President Yudof, however, that one of several rather important differences between corporations and universities is that some people who work at universities are notorious for paying way, way too much attention to language. (Hello, English Department!)

To him, the difference between “furlough” and “salary cut” is purely cosmetic; to the faculty who made that suggestion, that difference actually had meaningful content. Even if some of those faculty are from (for example) West Philadelphia with dads who, like Yudof’s, were electricians, they nevertheless reached adulthood recognizing that the words you use do matter.

The Case of Chancellor Katehi and UC Davis

Leaving Chancellor Birgeneau aside for the moment and turning to Chancellor Katehi, the case for bad governance is perhaps even easier to make. If you’re unfamiliar with what happened at UC Davis, you can start with my review here, although I recommend visiting Angus Johnston at, whose account is much more thorough and amply sourced. Start with “Ten Things You Should Know About Friday’s UC Police Violence.” Then read Xeni Jardin’s interview with a student who had to remain anonymous because he feared expulsion for reporting on his own pepper-spraying.

The students elected to prove their non-violence to Chancellor Katehi in this way, which is one of the most chillingly effective protests I have ever seen.

Here is Chancellor Katehi’s response to the events on her campus. Notice, again, the Chancellor’s royal “we,” and how similar her response is to Chancellor Birgeneau’s. Perhaps there is a template:

We are saddened to report that during this activity, 10 protestors were arrested and pepper spray was used.  We will be reviewing the details of the incident. … We are even more saddened by the events that subsequently transpired to facilitate their removal.

In what is perhaps the smallest compliment I have ever paid, I congratulate the Chancellor for saying that she has not yet reviewed the details of the incident, and on refraining from using the extraordinarily condescending language that peppered Birgeneau’s first missive.

Like Birgeneau, it became clear, thanks to the bad publicity and not to the discontent of the campus community, which was already very apparent, Katehi realized she needed to write a Second Letter from the Chancellor, which is rapidly becoming its own genre. (Perhaps someday Chancellors will swap stories on writing their first “Oh, There Was Video!” letter.) Here it is. An excerpt—note that just as in Birgeneau’s case, she has switched from the magniloquent “we” to “I”:

In the aftermath of the troubling events we experienced, I will attempt to provide a summary of the incident with the information now available to me.

There’s the admission that the first letter was written with insufficient information, though made less damningly than Birgeneau:

The university police then came to dismantle the encampment. The events of this intervention have been videotaped and widely distributed. As indicated in various videos, the police used pepper spray against the students who were blocking the way. The use of pepper spray as shown on the video is chilling to us all and raises many questions about how best to handle situations like this.

Again, the use of pepper spray was not “chilling to us all” in the first letter. In particular, it was not chilling to the Chancellor, or to the “we” from which she wrote. There is a major revision here, and once again, it is a revision based on the fact that the Chancellor was forced to actually examine the evidence on which she had been earlier pronouncing.

What We Can Learn About The Administration From Their Letters

I’m dwelling on these letters because the two sequences highlight the extent to which this facile, irresponsible handling of outrageous events on campus is not accidental or reactive, but procedural. Putting them next to each other is instructive: we can see how two absolutely unacceptable events were handled. Twice. In the space of two weeks. On two different campuses. With two different chancellors.

The only thing they have in common is the University of California President, who has set the tone for an entire UC administration that issues boilerplate statements to quell dissatisfaction until there is no danger of a spotlight.

Or, in the words of @reclaimuc: “UC Davis’s Chancellor and its Police Chief both reacted as if this were an unpleasant routine, until it became a news item.”

It is a pattern the UC community has grown to accept with hunched shoulders.

Not anymore. We are not deaf, we are not a cemetery; we are listening, and we are watching.  As a member of that community, I apologize to the administrators and to the public for not doing I could personally to draw attention to this entrenched pattern of rhetorical duplicity and incompetence before. Many tried, I know, but a combination of complacence, resignation, hopelessness, and an inability to make themselves heard shut them down. Still, we all should have tried harder.

So, What Will Mark Yudof Do With All His Power As President?

I started this post with President Mark Yudof’s promise to do “everything in his power” as President to protect the rights of students, faculty and staff.

Here is the full text of his note on Facebook, with my responses as I read in bold:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I am appalled by images of University of California students being doused with pepper spray and jabbed with police batons on our campuses. [Kudos for “jabbed” rather than “nudged.”]

I intend to do everything in my power as President of this university to protect the rights of our students, faculty and staff to engage in non-violent protest. [Excellent!]

Chancellors at the UC Davis and UC Berkeley campuses already have initiated reviews of incidents that occurred on their campuses. I applaud this rapid response and eagerly await the results. [Applause is neither warranted nor appropriate. Moreover, the “reviews” in question are standard operating procedure and not one has resulted in a single concrete change, despite multiple instances of police violence on campus.]

The University of California, however, is a single university with 10 campuses, and the incidents in recent days cry out for a system-wide response. [Yes. Bravo.]

Therefore I will be taking immediate steps to set that response in motion. [Mounting excitement. Maybe this time things will be different.]

I intend to convene all 10 chancellors, either in person or by telephone, to engage in a full and unfettered discussion about how to ensure proportional law enforcement response to non-violent protest. [Good!]

To that end, I will be asking the Chancellors to forward to me at once all relevant protocols and policies already in place on their individual campuses, as well as those that apply to the engagement of non-campus police agencies through mutual aid agreements. [YES! This is exceptionally good—especially since Alameda County Police are not subject to UCPD rules when brought in through mutual aid agreements.]

Further, I already have taken steps to assemble experts and stake-holders to conduct a thorough, far-reaching and urgent assessment of campus police procedures involving use of force, including post-incident review processes. [What are “stake-holders”? What experts? This does not sound like an external review, which is the only appropriate response at this stage, and the only response the campus community is likely to take seriously, given the administrators’ habit of disseminating misinformation.] 

My intention is not to micromanage our campus police forces. The sworn officers who serve on our campuses are professionals dedicated to the protection of the UC community. [Fine.]

Nor do I wish to micromanage the chancellors. They are the leaders of our campuses and they have my full trust and confidence. [They should have your full confidence–it’s apparent that the philosophy guiding their responses is yours, since the procedures in question are a problem across multiple campuses which have been shaped by your administration. The chancellors are a problem, but it would be a mistake to lay the blame on them as individuals.]

Nonetheless, the recent incidents make clear the time has come to take strong action to recommit to the ideal of peaceful protest.

As I have said before, free speech is part of the DNA of this university, and non-violent protest has long been central to our history. It is a value we must protect with vigilance. I implore students who wish to demonstrate to do so in a peaceful and lawful fashion. I expect campus authorities to honor that right.

I finished that note feeling somewhat heartened. Some of that language is specific, some of it recognizes real problems, and it seems to be just a touch more personal a communication than the prepackaged statements I’ve come to expect from my university administrators. It shows evidence of some actual attention, some care.

Then the meeting between President Yudof and the chancellors took place. Here is the full text of the UC report. Galvanized by all the public attention his University has received, promising to do “everything in his power” (and he has a huge amount of it), I read this report with the expectation of bold action—something that would fulfill the interesting direction the President’s letter lays out. Something other than his earlier vague promises of “reviews” and that famous “process that has been put in place.”

Here are the three bullet points for future action:

Examine recent incidents involving use of force on UC campuses.
• Organize a thorough examination of police procedures, protocols and training.
Put in place a structure to assemble recommendations for longer-term practices to ensure the safety of members of the UC community engaged in peaceful protest.

The report promises that details will be released at some point, and I will be very interested to see what those are.

In the meantime, note how distant the “practices” (i.e., the concrete policies) are in that third bullet point from the process Yudof and his ten chancellors have offered to produce them. That sentence is a beautiful reduction of everything this administration does: it won’t act, it will develop “longer-term” practices. But first it will assemble recommendations for longer-term practices. And before that, of course, a structure needs to be put in place that can assemble those recommendations.

By the time we put in place a structure to assemble recommendations for longer-term practices to ensure the safety of the UC community, years will have passed, the urgency will have died, and the President and his Chancellors will be back to business as usual.

President Yudof, that is not a response.

Your Facebook note was the first hopeful thing we’ve heard from you. We look forward to the concrete details of your plan, which will be transparent, which will include an external review in a timely manner, and which will recognize the faculty as more than children and more than corpses in a cemetery where no one listens.

We are here, and we are listening.

[UPDATE: Chancellor Birgeneau has apologized. The text of that apology is here.]

[SECOND UPDATE: Yup, Chancellor Birgeneau was lying all along–see this e-mail transcript of Chancellor Birgeneau and his staff making up an account of protesters misbehaving and praising the police for the “professionalism”, all written the day before the protest happened. This was during the protests in 2009.]

[THIRD UPDATE: Here is President Mark Yudof’s latest note, which includes an external review of police procedures.