UC Berkeley Teachers Condemn Violence: 2233 signatories so far

UC Berkeley Teachers Condemn Violence

[As of this writing, the petition has 2233 signatories from a broad range of departments. See them here. h/t to reclaimuc, who has a far more complete record of #occupycal than I do]

November 11, 2011

Open Letter to Chancellor Birgeneau, the UC Berkeley administration, and the UC Regents:

We, the undersigned faculty, lecturers, and graduate student assistants—all of whom teach at Berkeley and are invested in the educational mission of this university—are outraged by the unnecessary and excessive use of violence by the police and sheriff’s deputies against peaceful protesters at UC Berkeley beginning on Wednesday, November 9, 2011.

We will not tolerate this assault on the historic legacy of free speech on this campus.

The protests on Sproul Plaza on November 9 were organized by a coalition of undergraduates, graduates, faculty, union members, and staff to clearly articulate links between the privatization of the university, the global financial crisis, the burdens of student debt, and the composition and power of the UC Regents, whose actions demonstrate a lack of concern with sustaining the public character of the UC system. The principles of these protests reach well beyond the Berkeley campus.

After a large demonstration at Sproul and a march into the city of Berkeley, the protesters formed a General Assembly that called for a non-violent encampment under the name Occupy Cal. As the encampment was being established, protesters were immediately met with physical violence by the police, including the jabbing and striking of students and others with batons. This assault by UCPD and Alameda County riot police against those peacefully assembled led to the forcible arrests of 39 protesters and one faculty member. Associate Professor Celeste Langan offered her wrist to the police in surrender, saying “arrest me, arrest me,” but was nevertheless aggressively pulled by her hair to the ground and cuffed. This began a series of tense confrontations—punctuated by further police violence—that lasted throughout the night and has persisted on our campus. The spectacle of police brutalizing members of our community does inestimable damage to our integrity, our reputation, and our standing as a public university.

We are appalled by the Chancellor’s account, in his November 10 “Message to the Campus Community,” that the police were “forced to use their batons.” We strenuously object to the charge that protesters—by linking arms and refusing to disperse—engaged in a form of “violence” directed at law enforcement. The protests did not justify the overwhelming use of force and severe bodily assault by heavily armed officers and deputies. Widely-circulated documentation from videos, photographs, and TV news outlets make plainly evident the squad tactics and individual actions of members of the UCPD and Alameda County Sheriff’s Department. This sends a message to the world that UC Berkeley faculty, staff, and student protesters are regarded on their own campus with suspicion and hostility rather than treated as participants in civil society.

We call on the Berkeley administration to immediately put an end to these grotesquely out-scale police responses to peaceful protest. We insist that the administration abandon the premise that the rigid, armed enforcement of a campus regulation, in circumstances lacking any immediate threat to safety, justifies the precipitous use of force.

We call upon the Chancellor to comply fully and in a timely manner with the Public Record Act request made in writing by the ACLU on November 10. We also call upon the Chancellor to initiate an independent investigation, separate from that to be undertaken by the campus Police Review Board, to ensure a fair review of events and procedures to prevent such attacks on free speech from happening in the future.

We also express our concern with the repressive policing that has occurred around the wider Occupy Wall Street movement—including Occupy Oakland, where undue force has led to numerous injuries such as those sustained by Iraq veteran Scott Olsen. In solidarity with Occupy Cal and the Occupy movements around the country, we condemn these police acts unequivocally.

We call for greater attention to the substantive issues raised at the protests on November 9 regarding the privatization of education. With massive cuts in state funding and rising tuition costs across the community college system, the Cal State network, K-12, and the University of California, public education is undergoing a severe divestment. Student debt has reached unprecedented levels as bank profits swell. We decry the growing privatization and tuition increases that are currently heavily promoted by the corporate UC Board of Regents.

We express NO CONFIDENCE in the Regents, who have failed in their responsibility to fight for state funding for public education, and have placed the burden of the budget crisis on the backs of students.

We express NO CONFIDENCE in the willingness of the Chancellor, and other leaders of the UC Berkeley administration, to respond appropriately to student protests, to secure student welfare, and to respect freedom of speech and assembly on the Berkeley campus.

Letter From the UC Berkeley Law Faculty to Chancellor and Administrators Condemning Police Violence

Letter From Berkeley Law Faculty Condemning Police Violence (click on the link to see the signatories; zunguzungu points out that John Yoo is not among them):

Dear Chancellor Birgeneau and Vice Chancellors Breslauer and LeGrande,

We, the undersigned members of the Berkeley Law faculty, write to condemn in the strongest possible terms:

1) the violence directed against non-violent student, staff and faculty protesters at Sproul Plaza on November 9, 2011;

2) the temporary detention by police of two law students near the law school on the same day; and

3) the Chancellor’s public and explicit defense of the police action of November 9, 2011, which madeinaccurate distinctions between violent and non-violent civil disobedience and which he apparently signed without having viewed the videos of the incidents at issue

Sproul Plaza. The First Amendment enshrines the right to assemble peaceably, to speak freely, and to petition for governmental redress of grievances. Interference with these rights, particularly in the form of violence that was visited upon protesters in Sproul Plaza last week, is inexcusable by any government entity, but is particularly troubling at a public university. While the University may enforce its rules, including citingor arresting those engaged in acts of civil disobedience (such as linking arms and refusing to disband), there isno place for instigating violence in a community dedicated to the free exchange of ideas.
Kroeber Plaza. On November 9, in separate incidents, a group of officers detained two Berkeley Law students who were attempting to return to class after participating in the peaceful demonstration at Sproul Hall. The officers detained each student near Kroeber Plaza, though there had been no protest activity at the Plaza or the law school, and the students were simply walking back to class. Ostensibly, the officers wereasking for identification. However, the accounts of these incidents provided by the two students and other witnesses – law students and law school faculty and staff – describe police actions that were unwarranted and excessive.
Going Forward. The police conduct at Sproul Plaza, and the humiliating and frightening police activity at Kroeber Plaza, have caused a number of our students to question whether they can safely come and go fromthe law school, much less exercise their First Amendment rights at our university. In addition to the urgent need for a thorough review of these events – including holding accountable those parties responsible for anyactions that violated the civil and political rights of our community members – we call on the administration to:
1) implement immediately the recommendations of the June 2010 Brazil Police Review Board Report;
2) publicly support and defend the rights of community members – and especially our students – to engage in non-violent political expression; and
3) take all other actions necessary to reestablish Berkeley’s reputation as a beacon of peaceable assembly and free speech.

The Chancellor’s Latest Letter: In Which He Resorts to All-Caps

[This is a letter from the Chancellor sent today, in the wake of thousands of people marching on his campus, many of whom are calling for his resignation. It has not, as of yet, gone out to all students (I haven’t received it, and neither have friends in the English department) but it has gone to the “other members of the campus community” to whom this panicked e-mail is addressed. Thank you to the kind person who passed this onto me.]

From: Robert J. Birgeneau, Chancellor
To: Academic Senate Faculty, Staff, All Academic Titles, Other Members of the Campus Community,
Subject: Important Message from the Chancellor
Sent: Nov 15, 2011 5:09 PM

To the Campus Community:

We all share the distress and anger at the State of California’s disinvestment in public higher education.


The issues require bold action and time is short. I will inform you of the time and place as soon as possible.

Robert J. Birgeneau,

[Please note that a version of this letter is now up at the UC Berkeley News Center and has been edited so as to lose the all-caps.]

How University Administrators Play Good Cop to UCPD’s “Bad Cop”

Here, via SF Gate, is a telling example of how the administration tries to play good cop to the UCPD’s bad cop:

“We’re extremely disturbed by the images on the video and will work very hard to not repeat the violence on Tuesday,” said Claire Holmes, associate vice chancellor of public affairs.”

That’s immediately preceded by this:

“Campus police say they are investigating their response and considering whether pepper spray and tear gas might be used in future protests.”

To sum up: the VC of “public affairs” does her job and expresses a concern about the “images” (and one hopes, implicitly, the people) while her boss (who works closely with the UCPD) plans to escalate the violence. To put it another way, the UCPD is investigating their excessive use of force, unprovoked, and have concluded that the beatings by baton weren’t enough–tear gas will be helpful in “avoiding similar aggression”.

Reading the Chancellor’s Two Letters: The Facebook Update I Wrote For Weary Friends

Dear friends and family, I’m really sorry to keep talking about UC Berkeley, but my friends and students and professors have been beaten or arrested or both, so it’s hard to think about much else. Since I have a little insider info, I feel like I should do what I can to let others know what’s happening. Feel free to “Hide” me if these are getting annoying. I totally understand.

Anyway, here’s the latest: Our Chancellor just sent us, the campus community, a second letter. Chancellor Birgeneau, who condemned students linking arms as “not nonviolent” and approved of police beating faculty and students, has just issued a second statement in which he admits that he was traveling last week, and was only just now “able” to watch the videos of his students and faculty being beaten. (There is evidently no internet in Asia, or in airports.)

Faced with footage of his directer of the Townsend Center for the Humanities being yanked forward by her hair onto the ground and cuffed (or of a 70-year old Pulitzer-Prize winning poet being “nudged” by police batons), he has the grace to admit that these incidents are indeed “disturbing.”

In that first letter (which is becoming legendary for its wrongheadedness), he not only condemned the students and faculty whose beatings he authorized, but also had the audacity to lecture them on “nonviolence” without so much as bothering to watch the footage that was shocking Americans at home. I can’t understand this as anything other than criminally negligent.

This second letter, coming hard on the heels of the first, and quite different in tone, is pretty clear evidence of two things:

1) His office has been flooded with phone calls and letters from shocked onlookers, many of whom are calling for his resignation.

2) He’s lying. He claims UCPD Chief of Police Celaya is “investigating” his officers for misconduct; in fact, Celaya has openly admitted (in SFGate!) his tentative plans to escalate violence against protesters, adding tear gas and pepper spray to batons. (I’ve posted a link to that article on my profile, if you’re interested.)

I want to emphasize that the UCPD reports to the Chancellor. The Chancellor is absolutely aware of these plans (unless he neglects to read the newspaper too), which will go into effect tomorrow, and approves of them. This second letter, with its admission of ignorance, is a repugnant display of duplicity and bad faith.

There’s nothing for it. Tomorrow, for the first time in my sheltered life, I have to face the possibility that I might be tear-gassed or arrested on my Chancellor’s orders, along with lots and lots of of my faculty, my students and my friends. I hope he rethinks this. I don’t want any of those things to happen. I’m scared. But if the day takes that turn, I’d like for anyone who bothered to read this far in this ridiculously long status update to understand why. It won’t be because the police acted on their own, it won’t be a case of crazy cops gone wild, and I promise it won’t be because I was violent or even disrespectful. It won’t be a “mistake” that everyone can calmly investigate later. It will be because my Chancellor decided it was the right thing to do and told the police to do it.

Chancellor Birgeneau’s Second Try: In Which He Pleads Ignorance And Keeps Saying the Word “Community” Hoping That Repeating It Will Make it True

Dear Cal Campus Community:

I returned to Berkeley yesterday after a week-long trip to Seoul, Tokyo and Shanghai where we successfully advanced some important new partnerships that will benefit our campus.

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. [Note: For comparison, please see what he said in response to those events in his first letter.] The events of last Wednesday are unworthy of us as a university community. Sadly, they point to the dilemma that we face in trying to prevent encampments and thereby mitigate long-term risks to the health and safety of our entire community.

Most certainly, we cannot condone any excessive use of force against any members of our community. I have asked Professor Jesse Choper, our former Dean of Law, and current Chair of the Police Review Board (PRB) to launch immediately a review of the police actions of last Wednesday and Thursday morning. As is normal process, University Police Chief Mitch Celaya is concurrently undertaking an operational review of last week’s events. He has requested that it be conducted by a senior member of the command staff at one of our sister UC campuses. This report will be provided to the PRB. I am confident that Professor Choper will provide a fair and balanced judgment as speedily as possible.

We believe that we can best move forward by granting amnesty from action under the Student Code of Conduct to all Berkeley students who were arrested and cited solely for attempting to block the police in removing the Occupy Cal encampment on Wednesday, November 9. We will do so immediately.

I believe that as a campus community, we can and must join together and focus on our common goals – inducing the state to reinvest in public education, working to repeal Prop. 13, finding a way to reverse Prop. 209, and instituting reforms that will help California regain its status as the door to the American Dream through public higher education. Thanks to the efforts of our students who worked effectively with Assemblyman Cedillo, myself and other members of our campus community, we were able to ensure that the legislature in Sacramento passed AB 130 and AB 131 which Gov. Brown ultimately signed. This example of successful and peaceful activism with students and campus leaders working together can guide us in how we can collaborate to effect real change that will benefit us all. We share the aspirations of the Occupy movement for a better America. I am confident that as a campus community we will find a peaceful and productive way forward.

Robert J. Birgeneau
Chancellor, UC Berkeley

Documenting the Brutality Against UC Berkeley Students and Faculty on Nov. 9, 2011

See zunguzungu for an even more exhaustive list of links:

Students and Faculty Beaten, Including 70-Year Old Pulitzer Prize-Winning Poet Robert Hass: An exhaustive account of what happened on Nov. 9, 2011, complete with video clips, as told by graduate student Irene Yoon.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington Denounces Police Violence Against Peaceful Students

Berkeley Leaders Refuse Mutual Aid Agreement with UCPD in the Wake of Violence Against Students: “Citing excessive force and free speech violations by police during protests in Oakland and at UC Berkeley, the Berkeley City Council this week refused a mutual aid agreement with university police and nixed agreements with other police agencies on regional domestic surveillance.”

Police Absurdity: UC Police Department officials cite a student for carrying a sign, then start a policy of demand student IDs from any sign-carriers. The pretext: so as to determine whether the person is subject to the student Code of Conduct. The real object: to stop them from carrying any signs bigger than 30 in x 30 in which, according to UCPD Lt. Alex Yao, are “not allowed on campus.” Their behavior is so disruptive that the Law School advises students to avoid the West entrance of their building for their own safety.

Dear Chancellor: Please Stop. A moderate graduate student voices her concerns to the Chancellor. “I am not unsympathetic to many of the difficult decisions that you as administrators are facing in response to the Occupy Cal protest.  I understand the reasons behind the campus prohibition of camping, and I share your concern that outdoor spaces on our campus do not have the infrastructure to support protestors living in them for an extended period of time.  However, I remain firmly convinced that, in order to maintain American, Californian, and Berkeleyan traditions of free speech, you must clearly instruct the UCPD on our campus to exert absolutely minimal force, to favor inaction over rapid response, and to give protestors the benefit of the doubt.”

The Director of the Townsend Center for the Humanities (who was yanked to the ground by her hair and arrested), recounts her experience: “The organizers of Occupy Cal asked those who were willing to stay and link arms to protect those who were attempting to set up the encampment; I chose to do so. I knew, both before and after the police gave orders to disperse, that I was engaged in an act of civil disobedience. I want to stress both of those words: I knew I would be disobeying the police order, and therefore subject to arrest; I also understood that simply standing, occupying ground, and linking arms with others who were similarly standing, was a form of non-violent, hence civil, resistance. I therefore anticipated that the police might arrest us, but in a similarly non-violent manner. When the student in front of me was forcibly removed, I held out my wrist and said “Arrest me! Arrest me!” But rather than take my wrist or arm, the police grabbed me by my hair and yanked me forward to the ground, where I was told to lie on my stomach and was handcuffed. The injuries I sustained were relatively minor–a fat lip, a few scrapes to the back of my palms, a sore scalp–but also unnecessary and unjustified.”

Colbert Comments on the Police Attack on Students: “When they said Berkeley was crunchy, I didn’t realize they meant the students rib cages!”


zunguzungu: “The Grass is Closed:” What I Have Learned About Power From the Police, Chancellor Birgeneau, and Occupy Cal.