Chief Meehan & the December 2014 Berkeley Protests
Still No Explanation from The Chief After Nearly 6 Months
Early in December of 2014, protests erupted throughout the Bay Area related to news that Mike Brown’s killer as well as the cops who killed Eric Garner would face no criminal charges. In February of 2015, the Berkeley City Council voted for an Independent Investigation of the police response to the protests. Unfortunately, despite General Orders that require the police department to issue an “After Action Report” to evaluate the police response, the police leadership decided that they would not create this report. Instead, they claimed, they would present their own, more comprehensive investigative report. Well Chief Meehan, it is six months after the protests and we are all still waiting for you to explain what happened and why.
And this is not just about policy! Every time the BPD gets caught abusing the people and their first amendment rights, they make a big deal about rewriting some policies. Of course, you can always adopt a better policy and some policies are better than others. However, what Berkeley is suffering from is:
– LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY AND CONSEQUENCE . Officers rarely get punished for abusing people’s rights. It happened many times that night and it’s on video. The city leaders must take action against bullies in cop uniforms and let it be known that we have zero tolerance for misconduct. Identify officers and their violations. Hold them accountable.
– POOR LEADERSHIP: Our police leadership doesn’t seem to understand what it means to work with a community in order to increase community safety. This level of secrecy, surveillance and distrust of the community isolates the police and makes them unable to really solve crime and protect neighborhoods.
Let’s ask the Chief about a few things:
Ask about individual acts of officer misconduct:
What actions can be taken against officers who strike people with batons as they are backing away?
Why did BPD officer Salas strike Joseph Cuff and knock him to the ground?
If officers are not identified with a badge or nameplate, is it the officer or their commander who should be disciplined?
Ask about the Chain of Command and Leadership Issues
Who ordered Berkeley officers to charge southward on the crowd at Telegraph Ave. while another line of police was forcing them to go north?
Who decided to gas protesters as they were walking quickly away from police from Durant Avenue well past Alcatraz (thereby contaminating whole residential blocks with gas)
How will the chief hold officers from other departments accountable for pointing munitions at protesters at close range and at chest height? What about for indiscriminate use of force and lack of badges?
Regarding December 7th– What caused the failure to secure the scene for a man who was suffering from a heart attack and died after a 23 minute delay in response?
Why has BPD leadership prevented public access to planning and evaluations of the police response to these events? Why so little compliance with the California Public Records Act?
Chief Meehan is delaying his report YET AGAIN! Is he trying to run out the clock on the PRC investigation which is due by August?
Copwatch Reportback from the Berkeley Protest 12-7-2014
(by Andrea Prichett for Berkeley Copwatch)
I was in the streets from 10:30 pm until 2am so I can not speak to all of what happened before I got there. Following the sound of the helicopter above, I was lead to Durant and Telegraph Avenue. The crowd as of 10:15pm was approximately 800-1000 people and approximately 150 police or more.
The protest began on Saturday at 5pm at Bancroft and Telegraph and people marched through the town engaging in a series of non-violent actions and civil disobedience including a “die in” at the Public Safety Building. According to witnesses, the crowd was attacked at various points starting with the Berkeley Police Department (Public Safety Building). Without provocation, BPD officers fired smoke bombs. They shot rubber bullets at protesters. Many people sustained injuries and the crowd was very agitated.
The group stayed together and marched through the streets. Eventually, the people marched past Trader Joe’s on University and MLK, Jr. Way and some broke windows. Windows were also broken at Radio Shack and at Wells Fargo on San Pablo and University. I was told that protesters had made efforts to get onto and block the freeway and were prevented from doing so.
Protesters have since photographed the full range of less lethal munitions used including ricochet rounds, bean bags, rubber bullets and various systems for delivering tear gas into the lungs of those present. One man was struck in the back of his head by a police baton. Another man got a broken leg, possibly from being hit with a round from some “less lethal” device.
The chemical smell of tear gas was still in the air when I arrived and a friend was eager to show me where two police vans had been damaged. One had a flat tire and both large white vans had graffiti written on the side of it. While this damage could be irritating to police, it certainly would not justify the level of violence they unleashed on the crowd.
It was clear that this was a college crowd. It is likely that the spectacle of police officers from Alamada County Sheriffs, Oakland, Hayward, Pleasanton, the city of Alameda, California Highway Patrol, UC Berkeley and Berkeley police officers was enough to keep students and others on a Saturday night engaged and eager to see what the police were intending to do.
After a standoff that lasted until about midnight, police began to move. Officers from many jurisdictions were on the frontline. Oakland officers had body cameras and were clearly identified. Some officers from Hayward, Pleasanton and Berkeley were not identified by a name or number on their uniform as required by Penal Code section 830.10. (It is interesting to notice that many of the officers from various department who were holding munitions and preparing to shoot into the crowd were unidentified by badge numbers and names. This included some BPD officers).
In times of mutual aid, the host city and its policies are used as the standard for the operation. At the end of the day, Berkeley police department is responsible and accountable for the actions of the officers under its command. I witnessed various officers without badge numbers and whose behavior was a violation of policy. I observed one Alameda Police officer with a tear gas gun pointing it directly at a protester who was backing up from him and was less than 4 feet from him. Clearly, a violation of policy. Sadly, of the officers and departments I saw that night, the worst behaved were our own Berkeley cops.
At about midnight, BPD and others maneuvered protesters into a southerly position and the thick line of officers was north of them. At the command of BPD, officers began pushing the crowd south on Telegraph. BPD officers were observed using jabs into people’s stomachs, using overhead strikes and other prohibited maneuvers. The size of the crowd meant that, though cops pushed people, those people were not able to move any faster because they were surrounded by a densely packed crowd. The police panicked the crowd intentionally. There was nowhere to run for many people trapped between the violently advancing police and the dense crowd.
At some point, we were gassed by police as we were walking briskly backwards and away from the police. There was NO reason for officers to have used gas on that crowd. There had been nothing thrown at the police and things had been calming down until the police began their assault on the people. The use of gas on retreating people can not be justified by Berkeley training or policies. Not only did they violently push this crowd down the street past Whole Foods, but the repeated use of gas on a crowd that was doing what the police had asked of them is totally without justification.
They gassed us from behind and we had to keep an eye on the police while we walked because these unidentified officers with munitions made us wonder who would be the next Scott Olson. Would they shoot us in the back? The bizarre behavior of certain Berkeley cops must be addressed by the police department. They were indisciminant in their application of force. They struck people with their hands up who were backing away. These officers must be disciplined and Chief Meehan needs to be held accountable for the way he trains and disciplines his officers.
We were pushed from Durant and Telegraph to the Oakland /Berkeley border. Our right to assemble was abrogated. Our right to commit civil disobedience was denied. We went west on Ashby, then north on Shattuck. By the time we walked up Durant to Telegraph, where we had started four hours earlier there was no one cop to be seen. Our people stayed very united. Experienced activists bonded with Cal students who had just come to the protest because they were in a bar, on the street or near enough to wonder what the hell ALL those cops were for.
Thanks BPD and other agencies for making so many new radicals out of those curious students. Your actions will ensure many nights of protest to come as we protest not only for justice for Mike Brown and Eric Garner, but justice for Kayla Moore and every person in Berkeley who has been bullied by an entitled class of people who represent the Berkeley Police department.
Now, the movement needs to extend the resistance and hold these cops accountable for the way they treated students and the way they treat the people of Berkeley every day.
People of Berkeley, we need to take up local issues. We need to demand the demilitarization of the police force. No tasers! No tanks! No more money for weapons of war and training for war. We need to take our demands to the Berkeley City Council on December 16th. They need to hear from us about the issues of militarization that we have been talking about for quite some time.
Demilitarize Berkeley Police Department- No tasers! No more weapons! No more Urban shield!
Fire police who assault civilians for sport
BPD stop racial profiling
Justice for Kayla Moore-jail killer cops!
Berkeley Copwatch invites members of the community to help us gather all of the reports of violence as well as footage of the night so that we can do a People’s Investigation of what happened and what we should do about it. We need volunteers to archive footage and gather reports of what happened.
We’ve set up a crowd-funding campaign to print and distribute copwatch literature!
We want to print:
7,500 KNOW YOUR RIGHTS CARDS: These are a quick pocket guide that provides important basics of your rights as well as useful phone numbers in case someone is arrested. These cards are provided to other groups to distribute in Oakland, SF and around the Bay Area.
500 copies of PEOPLE’S INVESTIGATION GUIDE: This is our latest publication and represents what we have learned about gaining access to information and conducting credible community based investigations. We don’t need to wait for government agencies to investigate. We have to support each other in understanding what actually happened at an incident before people will feel comfortable making demands.
1000 copies of COPWATCH HANDBOOK: This is our basic training guide and what we use when teaching highschool, college students, members of the community to copwatch. The book includes legal points, non-violence guidelines, practical tips about what information is important to gather at the scene and what to do if abuse has ocurred.
Incidents of police brutality, murder and corruption are increasing. Communities across our country are struggling with this problem and seeking solutions. While we don’t have all the answers, we do believe that every community needs to be educated about their rights, how to assert them and how to come together when police violate our rights, and the law. Please help us to spread the word and refuse to be abused!
At approximately 11:20 on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, I witnessed the Berkeley police act in an inexplicably violent and brutal manner toward citizen Jeremy Carter. They acted without provocation.
My co-worker and I were on a coffee break from our jobs in the Human Resources Department of Berkeley Unified School District. We parked on Kitteredge near Shattuck. As we pulled into the parking spot, I saw two officers standing on either side of what appeared to be an African-American youth in front of the Berkeley Public Library, directly across the street from where we had parked. An officer was holding the man’s arm behind his back in what appeared to be an awkward, unnatural angle. Concerned that he was a Berkeley High School student, we exited the car to approach. When we were approximately half way across the street, approximately four additional officers arrived and the young man was thrown and was being held down on the cement. My co-worker returned to get her phone from the car as I proceeded across the street.
I witnessed the young man passively submit to several officers placing a mesh hood taut on his face and proceed to place him in a restraining jacket and then hog-tie him. There was blood smeared across the tight mesh hood at his mouth. I never lost sight of the young man from the time he was standing passively with his arm held behind his back to the time he was on the ground, hooded, bound and bloodied. The young man never showed any resistance, neither physically nor verbally. In fact, as he lay passively, he apologized and told the officers he was scared several times. By this time, several people gathered to watch this horrifying scene, several of whom questioned the police action as the young man was clearly passive, scared and injured. The police reacted aggresively toward the onlookers . At one point, Officer Badge #18 crossed into the street where my co-worker Tracie De Angelis was filming on her cell phone, and violently and aggressively pushed her backward! Moments before he had warned her to back up by pushing her less aggressively.
She complied by moving into the street where he followed her, pushing her harder. I have never witnessed police officers so out of control and impervious to the safety and welfare of citizens. At no time did the restrained young man resist in any way, nor did anyone witnessing the police action act in a way that could be construed as interfering other than to observe, film, and express horror and concern for the young man. When asked by an observer what the young man had done, Officer Badge 18 # responded that he did not have to disclose that. Several people verbalized that the young man needed medical attention, and several of us considered calling 911 ourselves. Finally, after over half an hour of being bloodied, an ambulance arrived whereupon the frightened, passive and injured young man was loaded onto a stretcher, fully wrapped and hooded. This young man, who identified himself as Jeremy Carter, was never the least bit aggressive in any way from the time I spotted him standing upright with his arm pulled behind his back, to the time he was carted away on a stretcher.
As a 45-year old mother and Berkeley School employee, I am shocked by what I witnessed today- the total disregard for human dignity and safety by the Berkeley Police, as well as their demonstration of utter disdain for the everyday citizens expressing concern and exercising right of assembly and speech while showing caring and concern for a fellow citizen who was clearly being abused and injured.
At approx 11:20 am today, March 13, 2013, I witnessed an incident of police brutality of a young, black man on Kittredge St in Berkeley. I parked on Kittredge street for my coffee break. At first there were 2 cop cars with the young man. This took place in front of Berkeley public Library. The cop cars were parked at different angles:one coming from Milvia,one coming from Shattuck. At the beginning, they had the young man with his arm behind his back. We then got out of the car to make sure that nothing further escalated. The next thing we saw was he was put onto the ground face down. He had not resisted arrest. At this point we were not sure why they put him on the ground.
At that point I went to get my phone to film. Somewhere in between the time they put him facedown and I got my phone, another three or four cop cars arrived. The rest I have on videotape but what I can describe is they put a spit mask on him and they hogtied him .You can hear on the videotape that the young man was very scared. He was not resisting arrest at any point in time. At one point, Ofc. number 18 pushed me. You can see on the video. He also pushed me a second time when I was out in the street and threatened to arrest me. The other badge number I could get was number 27. It was when I tried to get closer to get the other officers badge numbers that officer number 18 pushed me. I asked them what they were arresting him for. They would not tell me. I asked them why they hogtied him. They told me he was being violent and aggressive. At no point did I see him be violent or aggressive.
All of it is on videotape and you can see from the video tape that the young man was very scared and was not resisting. I asked him his name. His name was Jeremy Carter. I tried to find out from TJ Curtin who was the sergeant on duty what he was being arrested for, what crime he committed and where they were going to take him: I understand this is to be public information but he would not give me any of that information. At one point I saw blood coming out of Jeremy’s mouth and I was not sure what this was from: perhaps when they put him facedown he was injured. I asked on the videotape (you can hear) if they would be bringing an ambulance because he was bleeding from his mouth. the ambulance did arrive and they put him on a gurney and they would not tell me where they were taking him. You can hear on the tape that I did ask TJ Curtain, the seargent, some questions that he refused to answer. This is a case of police brutality and aggression on a young man who was not a threat in any way.
Originally posted on IndyBay on Saturday, March 16th, 2013
By Xeni Jardin at 1:58 am Sunday, Nov 20, 2011 for Boing Boing:
22-year-old UC Davis student W. (name withheld by request) was one of the students pepper-sprayed at point-blank range Friday by Lt. John Pike while seated on the ground, arms linked and silent.
W. tells Boing Boing that Pike sprayed them at close range with military-grade pepper spray, in a punitive manner. Pike knew the students by name from Thursday night when they “occupied” a campus plaza. The students offered Pike food and coffee and chatted with him and other officers while setting up tents. On Friday, UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi told students they had to remove their #OWS tents for unspecified “health and safety” reasons.
“Move or we’re going to shoot you,” Pike is reported to have yelled at one student right before delivering pepper spray. Then, turning to his fellow officers and brandishing the can in the air, “Don’t worry, I’m going to spray these kids down.”
XJ: So, we see in the videos and photos that you were one of the students pepper-sprayed by Lieutenant John Pike yesterday. How are you doing today?
W: I still have a burning sensation in my throat, lips and nose, especially when I start coughing, or when I’m lying in bed. Everyone who got sprayed has sustained effects like this.
XJ: Can you tell us how it happened, from where you were sitting?
W: I’d pulled my beanie hat over my eyes, to protect my eyes. I received a lot of pepper spray in my throat. I vomited twice, right away, then spent the next hour or two dry heaving. Someone said they saw him spray down my throat intentionally, but I was so freaked out, and I was blinded by my hat, so I can’t verify. I did get a large quantity of pepper spray in my lungs.
Another girl near me who has asthma had an attack triggered by the pepper spray, and she was taken to the hospital.
He used military grade pepper spray on us. It’s supposed to be used at a minimum of 15 feet. But he sprayed us at point blank range. Another student, 20 years old, who was sprayed and then arrested—instead of receiving medical care for the pepper spray exposure, he was made to wait in the back of a police car. His hands were sprayed, and he had intense burning in his hands throughout the evening while he was being held. He asked a police officer what they could do to stop it, and they refused to give any advice.
XJ: Take us back to what led up to that moment. Friday’s protest wasn’t an isolated expression, or the beginning of the Occupy Wall Street movement on the university campus, right?
W: We’d been protesting at UC Davis for the last week. On Tuesday there was a rally organized by some faculty members in response to the brutality on the UC Berkeley campus, and in response to the proposed 81% tuition hike.
One of the reasons I am involved with #OWS, and advocating for an occupy movement on the UC campus, is to fight privatization and austerity in the UC system, and fight rising tuition costs. I think that citizens have the right to get an education regardless of economic condition. Most people are not going to get a job where they can afford to pay off student loans. But to exclude people from knowledge is unconscionable.
The #OWS movement is global, but it’s expressed locally in ways that are relevant to each city. People who are in NYC go to Wall Street. Oakland takes the port. At Davis, we have a university.
So the Tuesday protest was one of the biggest rallies on the campus since tuition hikes in 2009. That protest ended with a march around the campus, which led us to the administrative building. Sort of spontaneously, we all decided to occupy an area on the grounds and we stayed the night. The administration allowed it. I had a wonderful conversation with Lieutenant Pike that night. I dialogued with him for a while. He was cordial to me. He knew me by name. We offered him coffee and food.
We have a food collective, and we are organizing to feed the occupiers with food we grow at the student farm. It was all really lovely.
On Wednesday there was the big protest in San Francisco, and striking at the UC regents meeting over the proposed 81% tuition increase next year. The regents actually canceled their meeting because they knew we were coming, and they have since decided to do it by teleconference next Monday so we can’t disrupt them.
UC Davis police cleared out the 15 or so protesters who remained in Mrak Hall while the rest of the occupiers had left for the demonstration in San Francisco.
We had another rally on Thursday, with a big General Assembly. We decided to have an occupation against the injustices we were facing, and on Thursday night there were 35 tents set up, with more planning on coming.
It was beautiful. We we had food, we sang songs, students were tutoring other students. We were talking about important issues, dialoguing over issues affecting our campus.
Chancellor Katehi agreed to let us waive the “no camping on campus” policy that night, and allowed us to stay there.
That same night, we went to the associated students of UC Davis student government meeting on campus, and we asked them for a resolution for peaceful protest without police intervention. We wrote it, they passed it, and we now had the support of the student body to have this protest, which was great.
The next morning we woke up, made breakfast, and had a lovely morning.
Pretty early on, before noon we got a letter from chancellor Katehi to please remove our tents, citing health and safety reasons, but not saying what those reasons are.
We took the letter, and replied more or less: look, we understand we’re in violation of the camping code. But we believe that this is superseded by our first amendment rights.
On Friday, they delivered another letter: at 3pm your tents will be taken down. This letter was not signed, it was just one paragraph in a big ugly font. Not on letterhead.
“We are demanding you remove these tents by 3pm,” it read, “You need to move to another area on the campus so we can remove these tents, and if you do not comply you will be arrested.”
We talked amongst ourselves, and decided that we were going to stay. We spent the next few hours talking about tactics so our tents wouldn’t get stolen. Maybe we’d go to the Occupy City of Davis camp, and just keep migrating so they couldn’t take us down.
And then, at around 330pm Friday, riot police. A lot of them showed up. We saw them and put our tents in the middle of the area. We’d been keeping the paths clear keeping space immaculately clean, feeding everyone who was hungry who came by… we tried to talk to the campus groundskeepers and tell them that we understood they need to do their job. We offered to move our tents so they could water the lawn. We wanted not to disrupt unnecessarily.
When the riot police came, we put our tents in a circle. We walked around in a circle, and said nothing hateful towards the police. Maybe one guy chanted, “Fuck the police” a few times, but it died down right away. None of us wanted to chant against the police.
And then the police officers rushed in.
We were chanting so loud we couldn’t hear any order to disperse. And with no warning, moving incredibly violently, they seized a few students.
They handcuffed the students so tightly. One kid, later on they were unable to cut off his ties, they’d been tied so tight. One of the other students couldn’t feel his hands they were so purple, his circulation was cut off so badly for so long. He took himself to the hospital after he was released from the zip-tie restraints. They told him he had nerve damage and not to expect to be able to feel his hands for the next week. He has to come back next week to see if there was permanent nerve damage in his wrists.
We came back to the area after that round of arrests. That’s when the recording for most of the video you see on the internet was started.
We yelled, “clear these tents,” we didn’t want them to take our tents. Aside from refusing the order to disperse, the only rule we were breaking was camping on campus. But since we had the first night waived by Chancellor Katehi, we really hadn’t even broken university policy, she waived the code.
So, everyone removed the tents, and they were in the process of arresting more people. A collective decision was made on the fly to just sit in a circle arms linked legs crossed, with police officers and “prisoners” in the middle because we didn’t want them arresting only 3 of us. It wasn’t fair that 50 of us were there, and only a few arrested who hadn’t volunteered to be arrested. There was still one walkway open that the police were going to use to walk the arrestees out. I saw some friends of mine sit down there, and they were my friends, so I joined them. We linked arms, legs crossed.
We were never warned that we were going to be pepper-sprayed.
Lt. Pike walked up to my friend, and I am told that he said, “Move or we’re going to shoot you.”
Then he went back and talked to a few of his police officer friends. A couple of other officers started to remove people who were sitting there, blocking exit. Pike could have easily removed us, just picked us up and removed us. We were just sitting there, nonviolent civil disobedience.
But Pike turned around and I am told that he said to the other officers, “Don’t worry about it, I’m going to spray these kids down.”
He lifts the can, spins it around in a circle to show it off to everybody.
Then he sprays us three times.
As if one time of being sprayed at point blank wasn’t enough.
I was on the end of the line getting direct spray. When the second pass came, I got up crawling. I crawled away and vomited on a tree. I was yelling. It burned. Within a few minutes I was dry heaving, I couldn’t breathe. Then, over the course of the next hour, I was dry heaving and vomiting.
More people were arrested, then. One other person told me he was pepper sprayed while he was on the ground subdued. They tried to go up his shirt, because he’d pulled his shirt over his face to protect himself. So they aimed it up his shirt to spray him, to make sure he got it.
XJ: Chancellor Katehi finally gave a press conference tonight about that incident.
W: I was the first one there. I went right up to her and introduced myself. “I’m an undergrad here. I’m a victim of police brutality,” I told her. “The police sprayed pepper spray down my throat. I do not feel you have done your job protecting me on your campus. I hold you personally responsible for inflicting pain on me.”
XJ: What do you want from Katehi, and the UC system?
W: I can’t speak on behalf of the movement, I can only speak on behalf of myself. But I personally request that Chancellor Katehi and Lt. John Pike resign. We have a petition out there already. I request that a mechanism be set up for the impeachment of chancellors, and a system for democratic election of our chancellors. There is no good reason why students and faculty don’t make that decision. Even when a chancellor makes a decision likes this, they feel safe, because they’ve been appointed by the regents, and the goal of the regents is to make more money. They sit on the boards of big institutions like Bank of America, they are the richest of the 1%, and they’re using this institution to fatten their pockets and they’re putting students into debt to do that.
There will be a large rally on Monday at UC Davis, and I invited her to take part in our GA, if she’s willing to speak to us on our terms and operate on consensus method with no power dynamics.
She made a promise right there, on video, to come to our meeting.
I think she has done a terrible misdeed and that she and Pike should resign immediately so we can figure out a better way to run this institution.
Yesterday, police at UC Davis attacked seated students with a chemical gas.
I teach at UC Davis and I personally know many of the students who were the victims of this brutal and unprovoked assault. They are top students. In fact, I can report that among the students I know, the higher a student’s grade point average, the more likely it is that they are centrally involved in the protests.
This is not surprising, since what is at issue is the dismantling of public education in California. Just six years ago, tuition at the University of California was $5357. Tuition is currently $12,192. According to current proposals, it will be $22,068 by 2015-2016. We have discussed this in my classes, and about one third of my students report that their families would likely have to pull them out of school at the new tuition. It is not a happy moment when the students look around the room and see who it is that will disappear from campus. These are young people who, like college students everywhere and at all times, form some of the deepest friendships they will have in their lives.
This is what motivates students who have never taken part in any sort of social protest to “occupy” the campus quad. And indeed, there were students who were attacked with chemical agents by robocops who were engaging in their first civic protest.
Since the video of the assault has gone viral, I will assume that most of you have seen the shocking footage. Let’s take a look at the equally outrageous explanations and justifications that have come from UC Davis authorities.
UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi sent a letter to the university last night. Chancellor Katehi tells us that:
The group was informed in writing… that if they did not dismantle the encampment, it would have to be removed… However a number of protestors refused our warning, offering us no option but to ask the police to assist in their removal.
No other options? The list of options is endless. To begin with, the chancellor could have thanked them for their sense of civic duty. The occupation could have been turned into a teach-in on the role of public education in this country. There could have been a call for professors to hold classes on the quad. The list of “other options” is endless.
Chancellor Katehi asserts that “the encampment raised serious health and safety concerns.” Really? Twenty tents on the quad “raised serious health and safety concerns?” Has the chancellor been to a frat party lately? Or a football game? Talk about “serious health and safety concerns.”
How about this for another option: three years ago there was a very similar occupation of the quad at Columbia University in New York City by students protesting the way the expansion of the university was displacing residents in the neighborhood. There was a core group of twenty or thirty students there around the clock. At the high points there were 200-300. The administration met with the students and held serious discussions about their concerns. And after a couple of weeks the protest had run its course and the students took the tents down. The most severe action that was even contemplated on the part of the university was to expel students who were hunger striking, under a rule that allows the school to expel students who are considered a threat to themselves. But no one was actually expelled.
Remember when universities used to expel students instead of spray them with chemical agents?
We should also note that at Columbia, a private university, the campus police carry no arms and no pepper spray. This is what Columbia University police look like when arresting students:
This is what the police at Davis, a public university, looked like yesterday:
It is worth noting that in the Columbia photo, the one without helmets, guns, or chemical assault weapons, the student is being arrested for selling cocaine. In the Davis photo the students were defending public education.
Could Chancellor Katehi please explain what “serious health and safety concerns” were posed at Davis that were absent at Columbia? The only thing that involved a “serious health and safety concern” at Davis yesterday was the pepper spray. I just spoke with a doctor who works for the California Department of Corrections, who participated in a recent review of the medical literature on pepper spray for the CDC. They concluded that the medical consequences of pepper spray are poorly understood but involve serious health risk. As with chili peppers, some people tolerate pepper spray well, while others have extreme reactions. It is not known why this is the case. As a result, if a doctor sees pepper spray used in a prison, he or she is required to file a written report. And regulations prohibit the use of pepper spray on inmates in all circumstances other than the immediate threat of violence. If a prisoner is seated, by definition the use of pepper spray is prohibited. Any prison guard who used pepper spray on a seated prisoner would face immediate disciplinary review for the use of excessive force. Even in the case of a prison riot in which inmates use extreme violence, once a prisoner sits down he or she is not considered to be an imminent threat. And if prison guards go into a situation where the use of pepper spray is considered likely, they are required to have medical personnel nearby to treat the victims of the chemical agent.
Apparently, in the state of California felons incarcerated for violent crimes have rights that students at public universities do not.
Amazingly, UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza attempted to justify this crime.
If you look at the video you are going to see that there were 200 people in that quad. Hindsight is 20-20 and based on the situation we were sitting in, ultimately that was the decision that was made.
Yes, there were about 200 people in the quad. It is a piece of grass that was placed by the designers of the campus to be an open, central meeting place for the university community. But somehow, 200 students in the quad has become a problem. A huge problem. A problem so big that, well, yeah it was too bad those kids got pepper sprayed, but hey, there were 200 people in the quad.
Like the chancellor, Chief Spicuzza justified the assault by saying that the protest was “not safe for multiple reasons,” none of which she specified.
How is it that non-violent student protest has suddenly become “unsafe” in the United States?
Just to jolt us back to reality for a moment, remember Amy Carter, daughter of former President Jimmy Carter. In 1985 she was arrested in an anti-apartheid demonstration at the South African Embassy in Washington. Like the Davis students, she was arrested when she refused an order to disperse. But she wasn’t sprayed with a chemical weapon, or bodyslammed to the ground. She was handcuffed and led to a police car, telling reporters, ”I’m proud to be my father’s daughter.” The following year she was arrested again, this time at the University of Massachusetts protesting CIA recruitment there.
In short, Amy was just the sort of student that the administration of the UC is panicked about. She moved from place to place. She was arrested multiple times. She was not a student at UM at the time of her arrest there. She was a sophomore at Brown. This is the big fear the UC leadership keeps raising about today’s campus protests: the protests can’t be allowed because they might involve “outside agitators” who are not students. Well, the former president’s daughter was just such an outside agitator. She even brought Abbie Hoffman to get arrested with her at a university where she was not a student! The sky didn’t fall. No one was injured. No weapons were used. And Amy was acquitted of all charges, successfully arguing in court that CIA involvement in Central America and elsewhere was equivalent to trespassing in a burning building.
Now fast forward to today. Last week, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau issued a statement justifying the brutal use of police batons on student protesters like this:
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… the police were forced to use their batons.
Chancellor Robert Birgeneau thus joins the likes of Bull Connor, the notorious segregationist and architect of the violent repression of the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama, as some of the very few people who view the non-violent tactics of Martin Luther King as violent.
Most people disagree, which is why King was given the Nobel Peace Prize.
Throughout my life I have seen, and sometimes participated in, peaceful civil disobedience in which sitting and linking arms was understood by citizens as a posture that indicates, in the clearest possible way available, protestors’ intent to be non-violent. If example, if you look through training materials from groups like the Quakers, the various pacifist organization and centers, and Christian organizations, it is universally taught that sitting and linking arms is the best way to de-escalate any confrontation between police and people exercising their first amendment right to public speech.
Likewise, for over 30 years I have seen police universally understand this gesture. Many many times I have seen police treat protestors who sat and linked arms when told they must disperse or face arrest as a very routine matter: the police then approach the protestors individually and ask them if, upon arrest, they are going to walk of their own accord or not the police will have to carry them. In fact, this has become so routine that I have often wondered if this form of protest had become so scripted as to have lost most of its meaning.
What we have seen in the last two weeks around the country, and now at Davis, is a radical departure from the way police have handled protest in this country for half a century. Two days ago an 84-year-old woman was sprayed with a chemical assault agent in Seattle in the same manner our students at Davis were maced. A Hispanic New York City Councilman was brutally thrown to the ground, arrested, and held cuffed in a police van for two hours for no reason at all, and was never even told why he was arrested. And I am sure you all know about former Marine Lance Cpl. Scott Olsen, who suffered a fractured skull after police hit him with a tear gas canister, then rolled a flash bomb into the group of citizens trying to give him emergency medical care.
Last week, former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper published an essay arguing that the current epidemic of police brutality is a reflection of the militarization (his word, not mine) of our urban police forces, the result of years of the “war on drugs” and the “war on terror. Stamper was chief of police during the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999, and is not a voice that can be easily dismissed.
Yesterday, the militarization of policing in the U.S. arrived on my own campus.
These issues go to the core of what democracy means. We have a major economic crisis in this country that was brought on by the greedy and irresponsible behavior of big banks. No banker has been arrested, and certainly none have been pepper sprayed. Arrests and chemical assault is for those trying to defend their homes, their jobs, and their schools.
These are not trivial matters. This is a moment to stand up and be counted. I am proud to teach at a university where students have done so.
In this video, a group of college students are huddled on the ground in a defensive position at UC Davis on November 18. An officer, later identified as UC police Lt. John Pike, then casually douses them with a chemical agent. You’ll note that a number of bystanders who were simply watching what was going on are also exposed.
Assuming the police had legal grounds to make arrests, it seems apparent from the video that little or no force was necessary to achieve that goal. The students are obviously not a threat to the officers. It appears that the heavily armored riot police could have simply grabbed them and put them in flexi-cuffs had they chosen to do so. That means that this entire assault appears to be a perfect example of excessive force.
Via Twitter, Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin reports that there were 10 arrests, and one female student was hospitalized for chemical burns.
The most troubling part of the video, perhaps, is the way the officer identified as Lt. Pike flourishes the weapon, like a sommelier displaying a fine wine, before deploying it at the students.
Yet the video actually has an uplifting ending. The students displayed the immense power of nonviolence by remaining calm and then telling the heavily armed police that they will allow them to leave peacefully if they so desire. And the officers do just that, slinking away chastened, it seems, by the young protesters’ resolve.