By Demian Bulwa
UC Berkeley’s Police Review Board saw a series of videos this week — some from police cameras, others from YouTube — showing officers using batons to prod, push, jab and strike protesters who put up seven tents on campus last fall and then linked arms in a bid to protect those tents.
But the board got two very different interpretations of the controversial footage from the Nov. 9 campus demonstration.
Two professors representing the UC Berkeley faculty said excessive and unprovoked “military techniques” had been used against demonstrators who only wanted to express anger over soaring tuition costs.
An attorney speaking on behalf of campus police said the protesters, who included students, faculty and others, had offered “active resistance” by blocking, shoving and kicking officers.
During a critical sequence of footage that was widely viewed online, when a line of campus officers and Alameda County sheriff’s deputies is seen forcefully striking protesters, the police attorney said the goal was to create space for other officers to leave with the seized tents.
Video footage has always been at the heart of the response to the clash in Sproul Plaza, and it dominated Monday’s hearing in Barrows Hall. The subcommittee of the Police Review Board wanted to be walked through the videos before it issues a report and makes recommendations to the university on how to better handle civil disobedience.
The board had sought to hear from a third group Monday — students — but none offered a presentation. The professors who attended said many students did not trust that the board would prompt significant changes.
The incident occurred after student protesters and others voted to set up tents on a grassy area outside the campus administration building. They sought to form an Occupy encampment similar to those in New York, Oakland, San Francisco and other cities.
Police repeatedly ordered demonstrators to disperse, but they did not. When UC officers and county sheriff’s deputies advanced in riot gear, many protesters linked arms, forming a human chain around the tents.
While police succeeded in removing the tents, a day and night of confrontation followed. The footage offered Monday showed officers striking some demonstrators in the legs and body and pulling others by the hair as they screamed and chanted, “Stop beating students.”
Some protesters retreated, but others stood their ground and tried to grab the batons. One video showed by the university attorney depicted an officer engulfed by demonstrators, with some wrapping their arms around the officer and trapping him.
In one video, an officer orders the crowd to move back. One protester asks, “How do we move back? There’s 1,000 people behind us.”
When the officer tells the man to turn around and walk away, the protester responds, “That defeats the purpose of a peaceful protest.”
“The linking of arms is an established form of nonviolent protest,” Judith Butler, a rhetoric professor, said during the faculty presentation. “The specific point is that the arms are not raised against those they confront.”
Janine Scancarelli, an attorney hired to represent the campus police force, said officers were rightly concerned about an encampment springing up, because Occupy camps in Oakland and San Francisco were having problems with sanitation and violence.
It was unfortunate that people were injured by the police, Scancarelli said, but she added, “The actions of the protesters had a part to play in what happened that day. … It was a very hostile crowd.”
In all, 39 people were arrested on Nov. 9, including 22 UC Berkeley students and a professor.
The university also faces a federal civil rights lawsuit stemming from the confrontation. Ronald Cruz, an attorney representing 24 protesters, said Monday that the legal battle was over “the ability of students and the community to defend public education.”
Cruz said he had “no faith in the review board – that their actions will lead to any consequences to the administrators and police officers involved.”
Lt. Eric Tejada of the UC Berkeley police said Monday that the department’s internal investigation is being handled by the UCLA police force and was not completed. As of yet, no officers have been disciplined, he said.
“We want to be transparent,” Tejada said. “We feel like we did everything within the guidelines of the university and the law, and we just hope all of the investigations bear that out.”
— Reach Demian Bulwa at firstname.lastname@example.org