In iconic Sproul Plaza, many hundreds or perhaps thousands of UC Berkeley students and Occupy Oakland activists clashed with university police late into the night Wednesday, after officers carried out instructions from administrators to clear Occupy Cal protesters from their makeshift encampment. “We formed a human barricade around our tents, and they just beat their way through it with batons,” said one student. “It really, really hurt – I got the wind knocked out of me,” another protester, doctoral student Shane Boyle, told the San Francisco Chronicle, showing the reporter a red welt on his chest. “I was lucky I only got hit twice,” he added.
“After warning protesters that camping at the university is illegal, officers moved in and shoved demonstrators out of the way as they pushed toward the camp,” theContra Costa Times reported. “Six UC Berkeley students and an associate professor were arrested; charges included resisting officers and failing to disperse.” The police succeeded in clearing away tents, but protesters refused to leave the plaza, insisting that they’d camp there with or without equipment. Protesters with smartphones took turns webcasting video from the scene, and ultimately voted around 1 am to approve a University of California-wide general strike to be held Tuesday of next week.
It took a couple hours to settle on that plan. Around 11:30 pm, students were massed in the plaza shouting at perhaps a couple hundred officers.
Quoth one chant, “Your families will see this.”
Only afterward did they begin deliberating en masse.
The scene played out in a space most famous as ground zero during the 1964 Free Speech Movement. Sproul Plaza has since seen anti-Vietnam War sit-ins, anti-apartheid rallies, anti-Iraq War protests, and any number of smaller activist gatherings. A stroll through the plaza on an average day when school is in session is as colorful a scene as there is on campus, as student groups advertise, activists hand out leaflets, and nearby drum circles beat away.
The Daily Cal explains what precipitated the day’s events:
The campuswide day of action in support of affordable higher education and the Occupy movement has grown throughout the day to over a thousand students at its peak in the early afternoon, from teach-outs in the morning to a noontime rally that was attended by about 1,000 people.
The protest activities thus far have mirrored past protests with teach-outs and a rally on Sproul Plaza, but in addition to a focus on state budget cuts and the affordability of higher education, the protest has strongly identified with the national Occupy movement and included a march to Bank of America on Telegraph Avenue.
The video at the top of this post captures a violent clash that occurred earlier in the day, when police aggressively pummeled student protesters with their batons. Said Matt Welch, editor of Reason magazine, “Watch cops at Occupy Berkeley launch coordinated baton attack against unarmed students.”
As midnight approached, police were summoning reinforcements as protesters chanted, “The chancellor took our tents, but look, we took the plaza.” Said another speaker: “Police are not our enemy in this fight. We must above all remain peaceful.” The “human microphone” was later seized by an OWS ally from across the bay. “Occupy SF has brought some wifi,” he said. “If you want the password come up here — I can’t give it to everyone including the police.” Activists live-streaming from the scene at midnight claimed around 10,000 viewers as one protester after another began calling for a University of California-wide all student strike. The proposal was debated via the human microphone, and ultimately passed with 569 in favor and 31 against.
One observer estimated that about half the people present participated in the vote.
In related news, The Oakland Tribune reported the following just before Wednesday’s events:
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. Council members used news reports of police using excessive force at the Occupy Oakland protests and at previous protests at UC Berkeley as reason for not renewing the agreements that usually are approved each year without fanfare.
In addition, the council did not renew an agreement with the federal government on detaining illegal immigrants at the city jail. The 8-0 vote, with Mayor Tom Bates abstaining, means the council will revisit those agreements at a later date after scrutinizing them more thoroughly.
University of California campuses are patrolled by state police officers.
[Conor Friedersdorf - Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.]
Occupy UC Berkeley was given terms from the UC which severely restricted the student’s rights to assembly and free speech. Occupy UC was also met with police abuses, including searching and demanding ID from people at random, as well as physical violence on protesters.
“Yesterday’s clash at Pacific steel is the most recent of several crowd control incidents over the past year where Berkeley Police officers have used nonlethal force on protesters. Most of these incidents have stemmed from demonstrations or occupations at UC-Berkeley, where students have been fighting against budget cuts and redundancies. BPD have been repeatedly sent to campus on mutual aid to help University of California Police contain protests.”
The student protests of March 3rd 2011 in support of education were inspiring
and absolutely necessary. However, as UCB alum and long time residents of
Berkeley,we are troubled by the massive and disproportionate police
mobilization that we saw in front of Wheeler Hall that evening. We want this
action to be reviewed for a number of reasons.
While it is true that eight students had stepped onto a balcony and chained
their arms together, it is also true that they posed NO RISK to anyone. In
fact, there was no disruption to campus life, other than that caused by the
police. We were shocked to see officers from so many different police forces
gathered as if some disaster had happened. Sadly, many of our Berkeley Police
officers were lined up on the steps of Wheeler Hall, contributing to the
fiction that some great threat to the campus was being addressed by these armed
We object to having our scarce city resources squandered on exaggerated
responses to minor campus displays of protest and dissent. We want to see an
evaluation of our city’s mutual aid pact with the UC and whether we should
have to spend city money on unnecessary police aid. Perhaps this exaggerated
response is part of the current trend of officers assigning themselves and
other officers to duties whose main purpose is to net officers additional
We are also concerned by the following:
• BPD officers are PROHIBITED from using pepper spray in crowd situations.
Who sprayed six UC students with this dangerous chemical?
• Why were BPD officers carrying munitions when they were less than two feet
from peaceful protesters?
• Why were BPD officers intentionally provoking the crowd by moving forward
with their clubs into the crowd that was listening to speeches? Were they
trying to start an altercation of some sort?
Ask the important questions! Don’t let UCB use city cops to fight their
battles for them. If UCB wants to parade their police force, don’t make the
city pay. Save the money for education- not police overtime!
**************************************************** Speakout at the Police Review Commission Wed. March 23rd 7pm
South Berkeley Senior Center
2939 Ellis Street (Near Ashby and below MLK)
Despite declaration of unlawful assembly by UCPD, protesters hold position and demand negotiations with university administration during protests and demonstrations that continued into the evening Thursday.
The overwhelming police force summoned by Oakland and its mutual aid pacts was not able to stop property damage and looting. Despite police from Fremont, Vallejo, Berkeley, San Francisco and perhaps even hundreds of California HIghway patrol, protests lasted until after 11pm when Russel and I stopped our shift.
The protest at 14th and Broadway was shut down soon after the 8pm end time of the authorized speakout. The intersection was closed to traffic but was completely surrounded by thick lines of cops at each cross street. When the mic shut down, some people tried to march. Cops even began advancing on the crowd at one point only moments after the end of the program.
There were probably over 1000 people in attendence. Some left after the speakout but others came. What was clear was that the incredible cost of paying so many cops did not yield the desired result: I saw stores that had windows smashed and a couple were looted (jewelry store, Foot Locker, few others). Many windows broken, mostly corporate. Lots of graffiti and some small fires. So far about 50 arrests.
It strikes me that the overwhelming force was used to disrupt and prevent a march. However, the strategy of using so many cops to close streets and chase people meant that the crowd was in small clumps, each equally capable of taking a side street and doing what they wanted. It was also noted that stores that were damaged were left COMPLETELY unsecured by police even though they had hundreds at their disposal. Even a few cops in those places could have helped the small businesses they had earlier claimed to want to protect.
The Afghanistan approach, or massive military style DID NOT achieve its objective! Try winning hearts and minds next time!
In solidarity with the community, Copwatch awaits the verdict in the Mehserle trial in Los Angeles. We grieve and rage at the injustice of Oscar Grant’s killing and we condemn excessive and undue force from police and all law enforcement. As a group of citizens concerned about police misconduct, we have followed this case together with the many other cases of police brutality locally and nationally. We respect and stand with the community organizing that has been ongoing in response to this violence. And we commend the courage and dedication of those witnesses who recorded the violent and illegal BART police response on the platform and who came forward with their recordings.
We are preparing for the day of the verdict, in conversation as a group, and with other organizations and community members. We will be in the streets and will respond to witness reports as best we can to serve and support the community at this time. In the long run, we will continue to foster community-based efforts to monitor and observe police behavior. After the verdict is announced, no matter what it is, and after the crowds and politicians go home, we will still need to address the question of how to protect communities from police murders and attacks.
Copwatch has been monitoring police activity in the East Bay for over 20 years, and draws on a powerful legacy of community-based recording and resistance to police brutality and discriminatory policies that has roots in the Black Panther Party. We draw on this history to recognize the importance and need for civilian oversight of law enforcement personnel and agencies. Struggle existed before the verdict in the Mehserle trial. And this struggle will continue. This means we must continue to organize.
However, we must organize outside of this system that murders young Black men in Oakland and across the United States on a regular basis. We cannot hope to succeed if we continue to send a mixed message to our communities. We cannot claim to understand that there is corruption, racism and bias built into the structure of this society and then continue to press for justice from this very same, unjust system.
We need to work together to find solutions beyond police in our communities. Historically, increased police presence is not a solution that helps poor communities. Police and law enforcement cannot solve the problems of poverty and unemployment that are at the core of crime in these neighborhoods.
We imagine that a culture of responsibility and accountability means each of us asking about our own long-term commitments to stopping police brutality. How can we work together to hold agents of the state accountable? How can we remember Oscar Grant by continuing with the momentum of organized resistance that his life and murder further catalyzed? We must continue this momentum and fight the gang injunctions together. We must learn to stop calling the police into our homes and lives and develop alternatives to police. We must continue to report the abuse that we see.
There are many ways to continue the work of gaining justice for Oscar Grant and all the other victims and survivors of police violence. Join a group, go to a Know Your Rights training, learn the law, challenge increasing police power, demand that your city give money for education and not a dime for specialized weapons for police.
Come to a Copwatch meeting!
2022 Blake Street
Berkeley CA 94705
COMMUNITY BASED POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY
FREE CLASS STARTING SEPTEMBER 1st
6pm on Mondays
Study the history of police, civilian review, gang injunctions, community control, immigration and the law, prison-industrial complex and much more! This course is offered for credit through the DeCal program at UC Berkeley. Members of the public are welcome to attend!