Wednesday, December 16, 2009

UCB Fucking Lies

The official SAO report is out and is circulating by email. It's been posted here. It's damning:
The Student Advocate’s Office (SAO), a non-partisan and executive office of the ASUC, is deeply concerned with the circumstances surrounding the university arrests of 66 individuals, including approximately 40 students, from Wheeler Hall on December 11, 2009. While we do not condone conduct that threatens the safety of the campus community and recognize that the planned unauthorized concert lacked the necessary safety precautions, we believe the administration did not adhere to procedures that were in the best interest of students. The following is a statement that addresses our concerns:

Following the arrests of students involved in the week-long “Open University” protests, UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof stated in a university press release that “there had been an understanding of access to certain areas and [the protestors] began to violate those understandings.” He continued by stating that the arrests were made “once the group refused to reconsider plans to hold an unauthorized all-night concert in an academic building.” However, when members of the SAO met with Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard out of concern for the arrested students, he provided reasons for the arrest that were not in line with the university’s public statements. Dean Poullard acknowledged that the university’s call for police intervention was not initially linked to the concert, but rather had been discussed earlier that week before the concert was publicized. His statements indicated that the arrests would have been made earlier in the week, but the university feared that the students would reoccupy campus buildings upon their release. This risk meant that arrests at the beginning of the occupation would be more costly to the university. Considering that the arrests were discussed prior to administrative knowledge of the concert, the SAO believes that the actions taken by the university were disingenuous. We believe the campus should be made aware of this discrepancy.

The prior discussion of the arrests calls into question the validity of the administration’s attempts to communicate with student organizers

Throughout the duration of the “Open University” protests, there was an understanding between the administration and the protestors that they would be allowed to stay inside Wheeler until Friday evening. At the same time, university officials were engaged in dialogue to plan the arrests of the protestors. The intentions of the administration must be called into question. The efforts to negotiate with the protestors were conducted in bad faith, leading students to believe that there was room for collaboration and communication when the administration had intended to move forward with police action all along.

The lack of an immediate dispersal warning was unfair and could have seriously jeopardized particularly vulnerable groups of students

The university had warned individuals in Wheeler Hall of legal and student code of conduct violations for four nights without taking any measures to enforce those warnings until the arrests that Friday. The routine nature of those warnings gave many students the false impression that their actions were an acceptable form of protest that was tolerated by the administration. This tacit agreement led many students to participate in the events who would otherwise have avoided Wheeler Hall had they anticipated the risk of severe punishment. The routine warning was administered at roughly 10 p.m. Thursday with a 6-7 hour gap before the arrests were made at 4:30 A.M. the following morning.

This large span of time between the last warning and the arrests ignores the possibility that some of the students present at 4:30 A.M. had not heard the warning. While the university states that its primary concern was preventing any disruption that could have been caused by the concert, it is unreasonable to assume that students present in Wheeler Hall at 4:30 A.M. would be the same attendees at the concert that was scheduled for 8 P.M. or involved in its planning. A significant number of students came to Wheeler Hall primarily to study, and most were asleep at the time of the arrests. The drastic shift from treating students as peaceful protestors for four days to hostile occupiers on the fifth was unnecessary and shows a disregard for student well-being. Beyond creating a criminal record for these students, the administration’s actions will also result in university conduct records that will have negative implications on the students’ academic careers.

Further, by not giving an immediate dispersal warning, the university failed to assess the danger that their actions posed to any AB540 or international students on site. Legal charges against any student under either category could have put the students at risk of deportation. Administrators did not take into account these potentially severe consequences.

The response to the “Open University” protests demonstrates the administration’s adversarial attitude towards student protestors

The discrepancy between university press releases and actual administrative plans to end the protest shows the administration’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for its actions. The failure to correct inaccurate information released to the public has misrepresented the indicted students’ behavior. It avoids any formal recognition that arrests were discussed earlier that week, and reveals a lack of sincere communication between student protestors and the administration leading up to the arrests. The SAO believes that in future instances of student activism, the university should not prioritize its reputation and financial concerns over the well-being of students. We hope that in the future the university will take measures to distinguish between those who pose a legitimate threat to campus safety and students who wish to engage in peaceful protest.
Update: Further analysis here:
The university’s stated justification for retaking Wheeler Hall — its need to to pre-empt a potentially disruptive concert that night and to ensure the building’s accessibility for finals twenty-eight hours later — explains none of the above decisions. But the reason the SAO offers — a desire to prevent students from mobilizing in the aftermath of the Wheeler Hall shutdown — explains them all. Indeed, the SAO’s charges lend new weight to a concern expressed by the ACLU of Northern California on the day of the arrests — that the mass arrests, and the decision to transport the arrestees to jail, may have been intended “to chill or prevent constitutionally protected expressive activities or to retaliate against demonstrators for their speech.”

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