Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010

Arraignment Tomorrow

We've received a report that the UC Merced student who is being charged with a felony (among other things) based on allegations stemming from the protest at the UC Regents' meeting in November, and who was subjected to a full-fledged manhunt organized and carried out by UCSF police, will surrender himself into custody today. He will be arraigned Tuesday (tomorrow) morning at 9am at the San Francisco courthouse at 850 Bryant St. Come out and support him!

[Update Wed 12/29]: From thosewhouseit:
Peter Howell, the UC Merced undergrad facing a felony count for the Regents' meeting, had his arraignment today around 10:45 am. Brought out in orange scrubs and cuffs, Howell's lawyer asked that the felony charge be reduced to a misdemeanor given that the prosecution’s case is so weak and that there is video evidence demonstrating that Howell never touched the weapon. The prosecutor attempted to defend the position that he grabbed Kemper's baton, but the reasoning was incoherent. Here's Howell on the scuffle:
"I put my hands on my chest and backpedaled," Howell said in the interview. "I was trying to get away. [Officer Kemper] shoved through me, and he may have lost control of his baton. You can hear it rattle on the ground in a video. At no point did I strike him on the head, so I believe that statement was false."
Regardless, the judge refused to engage the debate, pushing it back to the hearing date, now scheduled for February 22 upon the request of the defense. The judge denied him release on O[wn] R[ecognizance] but reduced the bail from $30,000 to $15,000.


Howell's lawyer, John Hamasaki, is looking for anyone who witnessed the alleged incident on November 17 at UCSF-Mission Bay. Contact him at john@hamasakilaw.com if you are a witness, or else if you have photos or videos of the alleged incident.

Safety reminder: Please do not offer yourself as a witness if you have uncharged conduct from that day (that may also show up in photos or videos). This is not an assumption that anyone does, just a precaution. Also, please don’t discuss any possible evidence or witness testimony you may have in writing, including comments sections on blogs and over listservs. Due to the recent increase in state/university repression, we should actively consider being very careful with information, in order to care for each other and ourselves.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


The website Iupileaks has obtained a private email sent by the president of the Universidad de Puerto Rico (UPR), José Ramón de la Torre, in which he calls the students protesting the $800 tuition increase "bandoleros" (bandits) and likens the conflict to a hyperbolic fight to the death:
Felicidades: Yo de guardia las 24 horas. Para mi no hay navidades. Esto es lo que me ha tocado. Nadie me va a intimidar voy a dar la pelea contra viento y marea aunque los Bandoleros me quieran liquidar. Que Dios les bendiga. JR

[Congratulations: I'm standing guard 24 hours a day. No Christmas for me. This is what I must do. Nobody will intimidate me I'm [sic] going to fight against wind and tide even if those Bandits want to liquidate me. May God bless them. JR]
As the editors of Iupileaks point out, this is not the attitude of someone who wants to resolve a conflict but someone looking to impose his will no matter what. Of course, this doesn't come as a surprise to those of us in California who have seen government and administration officials refer to student protesters as "intruders," "illegal occupiers," "vandals," and even "terrorists." At the same time, these characterizations help explain the ease and speed with which these administrations repeatedly turn to heavily militarized police and violence to suppress political dissent.

(The Iupileaks project. modeled explicitly on Wikileaks, is worth taking a look at. They've posted some very interesting documents, including a letter dated December 10 and signed by 25 faculty members demanding the incursion of the police onto campus.)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Book Bloc: Palermo

Studenti, scontri in piazza
Studenti, scontri in piazza
Studenti, scontri in piazza
(more photos here, some back story on the book bloc here)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Police Violence at the Universidad de Puerto Rico Strike

The strike continued today at the University of Puerto Rico. At the Facultad de Ciencias Naturales on the Rio Piedras campus, heavily armed police clashed with students protesting the new $800 tuition hike. Protesters marched through the building clapping and chanting to try to enforce the strike -- according to some news reports, they also used smoke bombs to force those inside to evacuate. At this point, the riot cops, which had been standing more or less on the sidelines, stepped in to shut down the protest. Police attacked indiscriminately with batons and tear gas, by the end of the day arresting at least twenty protesters and beating some as they lay on the ground. One of the arrestees, Germaine Ramia, had her left shoulder dislocated by a police blow. Despite the heavy police presence, protesters fought back, throwing rocks at the police, apparently popping the tires of a police car and, if we choose to believe the official police statement, injuring eight officers.

The arrested students were taken to the police station Hato Rey Oeste. At around 8:30 pm, about two hundred students and sympathizers arrived to protest in solidarity with those arrested. In part, they were responding to reports that they had received via text message stating that the police were beating them inside the jail. Again, riot police violently attacked the protesters outside. As of about 9:15 pm, police armed with long-range weaponry and machine-guns have cleared the street in front of the station, keeping a close watch on the protesters.

Like many universities in Latin America, the UPR is considered autonomous, which makes it illegal for the police to enter. Last week, however, the police invaded and occupied numerous UPR campuses, including Rio Piedras, Humacao, Bayamon, Cayey, and Carolina, for the first time in about thirty years. Furthermore, protests and demonstrations have been prohibited on university grounds. In this video from last week, riot cops at the Rio Piedras campus read what is essentially an expulsion order as they push students out: "You may not protest on school grounds: it is illegal" (No pueden manifestarse dentro de los predios: es ilegal").

Last week, a letter signed by 74 Puerto Rican professors was sent to Attorney General Eric Holder, condemning the police occupation:
As Puerto Rican scholars teaching in the United States we have decided to write to you in order to express our deep concern with regard to recent developments at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). For the past months, the University has experienced a continuing conflict that began last semester with a call for a strike by the students in response to an increase in academic tuition and related to fears about the future of public higher education on the island. Unfortunately, university administrators, professors, and students have not been able to negotiate a satisfactory agreement. The whole process has recently culminated in the intervention of Governor Luis Fortuño and the deployment of a massive police presence on the main university campus at Río Piedras and on other campuses in the system, including a private security contractor and fully armed SWAT units.

On December 13, Chancellor Ana R. Guadalupe banned all meetings, festivals, manifestations, and all other so-called large activities on the Río Piedras campus for a period of thirty days. In our view, this represents a clear breach of fundamental constitutional rights. The justifications given by the Chancellor are that this measure is required in order to keep the campus open and to return it to normal operations. Furthermore, professors and workers are being asked (under the threat of punishment) to continue working despite the intense volatility caused by the police presence on campus.

We remain very concerned that such use of force may in fact increase the potential for violence and continued tension, especially if the guarantees of freedom of speech, association, and assembly have been revoked. Both the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico guarantee these rights. Moreover, this week the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico (which, without the opportunity for serious public debate, was recently restructured by the government of Luis Fortuño in order to ensure a clear majority of judges in his favor) declared, in a disturbing resolution, that strikes will be prohibited at all UPR campuses effective immediately.
It appears they were right. The strike continues tomorrow.

(much of this report is culled from the minute-by-minute updates from el nuevo dia and primera hora)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

UC Police Ramp Up Repression [Updated]

[Update Sunday 12/19, 2:08pm] Just got word of some updates in the case. Most important is that Peter's arraignment will not be taking place tomorrow (Monday) morning, as previously noted. We'll post updates as we get them:
  • He has been informed that he will be charged with a felony count of 148(b) for the removal of an officer's baton;
  • The total charges are a felony and three misdemeanors;
  • He's arranging to turn himself in;
  • He won't be in court tomorrow and his lawyer is working on putting him on calendar soon (hopefully Tuesday).
Original post follows below...

This just came to us on the email, regarding the UC Merced student who learned the other day that he was facing four misdemeanor charges from the protest at the UC Regents' meeting in November [Update: the above link discusses a different student facing battery charges from the same protest; the student in the email cited below is facing charges for allegedly attacking UC Irvine cop Jared Kemper. Sorry for the confusion!]:
Tuesday morning Peter learned he was being charged with four misdemeanors arising out of the demonstration at the Regents meeting. Peter only learned that he was being charged after his attorney called the District Attorney’s office to check on the status of his case. Peter was informed that there was a warrant for his arrest issued at the behest of the district attorney’s office. Peter immediately arranged to appear in court in San Francisco at the earliest possible date.

Thinking everything was squared away, Peter spent the night at a friend’s house on Tuesday. Instead three cars full of police officers showed up at his house pounding on the door. His housemate tried to turn them away, but they asked for his ID which they ran to see if it was valid. The police were also looking in the backyard and the windows to see if they could concoct a reason to go inside. Luckily, his housemates knew their rights and told the police to leave, which they finally did after insinuating that the house was lying to them about knowledge of Peter and his whereabouts.

When he got to campus on Wednesday, he went to his professor to tell them what was going on. The professor offered to give him an incomplete, which is helpful but that means he'll have to re-study for his final over winter break. Peter found out later that police had been at the campus coffee shop looking around at everyone to see if he was there. Police also stationed themselves outside of the classroom where his final exam was to take place, and even went inside and lurked in the projector room during the entire test.

Peter, through his attorney, had himself placed on the court’s calendar immediately after he learned that the district attorney’s office was filing charges against him. Nonetheless, police have continued to hunt for the UC Merced student relentlessly. He now has two incompletes and must make the work up after break. Peter is rightfully outraged at the police's behavior and is astounded that something like this could happen in a country that says it values free speech and democracy. Also, he is disheartened that a university, his university, would use its police force to unjustifiably intimidate students, going far out of the way to make them feel hunted and watched.

We have learned that the Merced manhunt was orchestrated by the UCSF police, who traveled two hours out of their way in order to attempt to arrest and humiliate Peter in front of his friends, professors and classmates.

This situation is unique in a few ways:
  1. University police conducted a 24-hour manhunt (With UC student funds) for a student who is charged with a few misdemeanors.
  2. These police were from SF and went all the way to Merced to do this.
  3. Police created a situation of intense surveillance of the Merced campus, including a coffee shop that students use and call their own space. 
  4. Serious attempts were made to enter his house, including searching for a Plain-View Doctrine reason and questioning the integrity of his housemates. 
  5. He does not have a violent record of any kind and is not a flight risk. He has never given the police any reason to believe he would not show up for his court date on Monday.
We should consider some possible reasons that the UC has suddenly decided that its police force is best used to harass students at their homes and during final exams. Is it because they need to justify the unjustifiable act of Officer Jared Kemper of UC Irvine, pulling his gun on a crowd of unarmed protesters? Or have the UC regents and administration finally realized that the public education movement isn't a phase, and that we're not going to stop?

Peter deserves commendation for his cool head in this stressful situation and our support on Monday at his courtdate. Please show up, 9am in Department 13 at 850 Bryant Street in San Francisco to support this student who has been the target of oppressive police tactics.

Solidarity with the Georgia Prison Strike

From thosewhouseit:
The rally is on! We will be gathering in front of North County Jail in Oakland at 7th & Clay this Friday (12/16) at 4 pm. Shortly thereafter we will march to 14th & Broadway armed with reams of flyers, at which point we will hold a larger rally and concert in front of City Hall beginning at 6 pm. If we are going to successfully challenge this veritable media blackout and get across our message -- that demonstrating solidarity with prisoners is both legitimate and desirable -- we will need as many people as possible. We need to show the corporate media and the world that the Georgia prison strikers’ struggle is our struggle. We feel a certain affinity with all of their demands, and in fact their demands are our demands. Our struggle against preposterously high levels of incarceration in California, against oppressive prison and jail conditions, against police violence, and against austerity measures and privatization is their struggle as well. Our struggles are one and the same!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

US and Europe / Strategic and Tactical Differences

The recent wave of occupations and massive protests in the UK are incredibly inspiring for those of us in California who have been fighting the privatization of public education. There are some clear parallels, not only in terms of the economic and discursive forms the austerity measures take but also in the tactics being adopted and developed to challenge and combat them. But there are also significant differences.

In an essay published a couple weeks ago, Michael Hardt analyzed some of these differences. "Whereas in Britain, Italy, and other European countries students battle police in the streets and experiment with new means to protest such government actions," he writes, "there is a relative calm on U.S. campuses." What explains this calm? One relevant factor, he suggests, is that the movement toward privatization in the US has been much more gradual than in the UK. The broadest, biggest, and most intense protests in California took place in November 2009 when the UC Regents were voting to approve a 32 percent tuition hike; in the UK, parliament just voted in a 300 percent increase, and slashed the overall budget for higher education by some 80 percent. A second factor is the difficulty of national coordination, since the education policies vary from state to state.

But Hardt is most interested in the big picture, the roots of difference: "The most significant reason for less student activism in the United States, however, may derive from a much deeper national condition. The social value placed on education for all, especially higher education, has declined dramatically." Education is no longer a central mission of the US government as it was in the post-Sputnik era, and what Hardt (and Negri) identify as the shift toward "biopolitical production" has made the focus on hard sciences and engineering that dominated the industrial model less and less important:
University policies throughout the world have not kept pace with these changes. The private money that universities solicit to compensate for the decline in public funding is dedicated overwhelmingly to technical and scientific fields. The human sciences, which are increasingly relevant in the biopolitical economy, are deprived of funds and wither. In this case the student demands actually point in the direction of economic prosperity. The current student protests thus reconfirm a general rule of politics, that social struggles proceed and prefigure social development.
Hardt raises a number of questions that are clearly important for us to consider. In some ways, however, his broad vision obscures some of what I think are the most interesting differences at the micro-tactical level. Here I want to really briefly lay out two that I've been thinking about recently.

First, cops with guns. In this video from last week's protests in London, cops struggle to hold their own line as the "book bloc" of protesters attempts to push through using reinforced banners and shields in order to break out of the "kettle" where they're being kept against their will. In contrast, at the UC Regents' meeting at UCSF Mission Bay in November, the police used chemical weapons (pepper spray) and even drew guns to shut down protesters. What would demos look like here if the cops couldn't rely on such overwhelming firepower? How would we confront them?

Second, private property law. Dozens of universities in the UK were occupied in November, and many of these occupations are still ongoing. University College London, for example, has been occupied for about three weeks now. It's inconceivable for an occupation to last that long in the US. Even "live week," the open occupation of Wheeler Hall at UC Berkeley that took place almost exactly a year ago, lasted just four or five days. Not only was there a heavy police presence the entire time, we've since learned through a public records dump that the administration was scheming to shut it down from the start. They were just waiting for an opening to send in the cops, which they eventually did, making 66 arrests. But the legal context is different in the UK. As Angus Johnston wrote last week,
Some two hundred students at University College London have been occupying the Wilkins Building on campus for the last two weeks in protest against planned funding cuts and fee hikes at Britain’s universities. On Thursday the university demanded that they leave.

In the US, the university’s next step would have been obvious — call in the cops. In California, student occupations are becoming a regular occurrence, and police evictions accompanied by mass arrests are almost inevitable.

But this isn’t the US.

In the UK, you can’t evict students who are peacefully occupying a campus building without a court order, and the university has in this case so far failed to get one.
In comparison to the broad strokes of Hardt's brush, these examples may seem less significant. Obviously there are other critical differences -- for example, the strike culture that makes it possible to paralyze campuses in Puerto Rico, for example -- but the ones presented above are useful for thinking about horizons of possibility. Maybe what's at stake is the distinction between strategy and tactics. But sometimes this distinction gets blurry -- the normalization of cops with guns and the fetishization of private property shape the kinds of tactics we deploy and the kinds of violence we face in response. To some extent, they produce the field on which political action occurs. Actions or campaigns to push cops off campus or to disarm UCPD, for example, could significantly shift this ground and immediately add to the repertoire of tactics at our disposal. They won't turn California into London or Rome, but it certainly couldn't hurt.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lawsuit vs. UCPD

Before dawn on December 11, 2009, UCPD illegally arrested 66 protesters and sympathizers who had been participating in the week-long open "occupation" of Wheeler Hall. While university spokespeople feigned concern over a concert planned for that night, internal administration emails reveal that in reality they had planned to shut down the action from the beginning, and were simply looking for the opportunity to strike. But the concert was held anyway at an off-campus location, and from there a group of protesters marched to the Chancellor's house to demonstrate. Some minor property damage occurred, the police arrived quickly, and the protesters scattered. Eight were arrested.

Two of those arrested were UC Berkeley students, who suffered abusive and unconstitutional punishment at the hands of the Office of Student Conduct (OSC) and the UC administration more generally. OSC and the Code of Student Conduct together constitute one arm of the university's repressive apparatus, but it can only be deployed against students -- not their sympathizers.

The other arm is UCPD. Also arrested that night was Indybay reporter David Morse, who had been taking pictures of the demonstration. After arresting Morse, the cops illegally tried to use his photos in order to gather evidence against the protesters. Morse had the search warrant they used to justify stealing the photos quashed, and they had to be returned. Now, a year later, he's posted some of the photos on Indybay (including the ones used here).
Furthermore, Morse has filed a lawsuit against UCPD for the illegal arrest. From the press release announcing the suit:
Oakland — On Thursday, December 9, veteran journalist David Morse filed suit against University of California, Berkeley Police officers and other defendants in U.S. District Court for violations of the First, Fourth and Eighth Amendments and for violations of a federal law barring the use of search warrants for unpublished journalistic materials. The lawsuit follows Morse’s successful motion to quash a search warrant that issued for his unpublished news photographs.

Morse is a 42-year-old journalist who has covered hundreds of demonstrations and other events since 2002. He was arrested without probable cause at a protest he was covering at UC Berkeley on December 11, 2009. The arrest occurred after officers allowed a rowdy group of demonstrators, many of whom were wearing masks, to flee. Instead of giving chase, Morse’s arresting officer pulled his car up to Morse and said, “I saw you take a picture of us. We want your camera.” Officers arrested Morse despite the fact that he informed them of his journalist status six times and denied all wrongdoing.

Officers jailed Morse, then increased the charges against him in order to buy themselves time to prepare a misleading search warrant affidavit that omitted any mention of Morse’s newsgathering activities. First Amendment Project successfully quashed that search warrant in June on the basis that it violated Section 1524(g) of the California Penal Code, which absolutely bars search warrants for unpublished journalistic materials. Federal law also bars such warrants.

Although Morse’s charges were dropped at his first court appearance, the defendants refused to return his images for more than six months and even made surveillance photographs of him when he attempted to retrieve them in person.

The federal suit filed today seeks damages against the various defendants, as well as a judicial order mandating additional training. High-ranking UCPD officers are separately being sued under similar causes of action by the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation for searching a newspaper office in 2008, litigation that was ongoing at the time of Morse’s arrest. Nonetheless, UCPD Captain Margo Bennett has been quoted as stating that UCPD has not considered changing the way it deals with journalists.
UCPD must pay for its authoritarian actions. In our efforts to get COPS OFF CAMPUS, anything that puts pressure on the police is helpful. More coverage of the lawsuit here.ucberkeleychancellorhouseprotest_121109e.jpg

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Book Bloc Front Lines [Updated]

Brave New World indeed -- the Book Bloc comes to London. Based on tactics used last week in Italy.

Also, negative dialectics:


[Update Tuesday 12/14]: The book bloc is back on the streets of Rome:
Youths rioted in the street, facing the police and demanding a change of government as parliament instead voted their confidence in scandal-plagued Berlusconi
Scores of anti-Berlusconi demonstrations were underway in cities across Italy during the vote
(more photos here)

[Update Friday 12/17]: A genealogy of the book bloc.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Updates on the NO Vote: How the UAW Works [Updated]

This open letter from a former Berkeley unit chair is a helpful addition to the numerous reasons we have for voting NO on the tentative contract agreement that the UAW leadership is pushing on us. But it's even more interesting in terms of the way it details some of the internal practices within the union, practices that make it completely unresponsive to and unrepresentative of its graduate student members:
The year before last I became, almost accidentally, first the acting then the elected Chair of the UAW for Berkeley. I was recruited to this position and agreed to it without much understanding what it entailed. This seems to be standard MO for the current statewide leadership; after I had agreed to stand for the position it was hinted to me that nefarious and disruptive people might try to challenge me for what is, after all, an elected position. As it turns out, no one did, I was “elected” by all of you without you having any idea, unless you actually read all those emails full of dense and formal bureaucracy-speak that you receive on a regular basis, and the leadership avoided having to deal with anyone who might make waves.

My position made me a member of the bargaining committee, and we prepared to negotiate a contract last year. Days before the first meeting with the University, in the midst of what was then the still-unfolding budgetary crisis, the state-wide president (do you know who your union president is? did you vote for her?) suggested we take the university’s offer of a one-year extension of the current contract with no changes at all. This was presented as fait accompli at a meeting of the committee, and we voted unanimously to accept it.

In the aftermath of all of that, I became increasingly frustrated with how poorly the union represented its members, how shockingly little democracy was actually involved, how easily the state-wide leadership quashed any dissent, and how wholly it bought into the University’s antagonistic relationship while capitulating on a regular basis to the University’s interests. I was in the perfect position to do something about this, but I was not the individual to do it for a variety of reasons. Clearly, that is why I was put in the position to begin with. So I resigned, and as I did so, I urged various people to step in and do what I was unwilling to do. I’m not proud of all of this, but I do have the satisfaction of knowing that Berkeley’s current representatives are a force for agitation among the state-wide leadership, and I support them.

Now, the University really is a vicious negotiator. You will note that we are only now, in the last week of November, voting on a contract, while these negotiations began last Spring and the previous contract expired at the end of September. You probably heard something about the switching of “fees” for “tuition” and whether or not that would invalidate our guaranteed fee remissions, a well-timed announcement that now puts the union in the position of touting as a win what is actually a holding of the status quo. The bargaining committee is not made up of evil people, nor are they secretly trying to shore up the UC’s bottom line at our expense; I’m sure they really believe that this is the best contract they can get. But they are tired of the process, they have been skillfully manipulated by the University, and they are actively quashing efforts to allow debate among the actual membership of the union around this contract.
Another form that the anti-democratic nature of the union might take is the real possibility of fraud in the vote count. This text comes from a flyer that was being handed out today on Sproul plaza:
The UAW Elections Committee, made up of elected representatives from each campus, agreed on voting procedures that require each campus to submit voting tallies to the committee, after which all ballot boxes are sent to one place and a final tally is made. The totals of the campus tallies and the total tally are compared.

On the morning of November 30th, the chair of UAW Elections Committee announced she would be withholding the daily campus tallies from the rest of the Elections Committee. Further, the Chair refused to hold a conference call with committee members to discuss this last-minute change in voting procedure. This unilateral act violates the November 28th decision of our Elections Committee -- duly authorized by the Constitution and Bylaws of the union.

Call Fawn Huisman, chair of the Elections Committee and express your concern over this unilateral and arbitrary violation of democratic procedure and the constitution of the Union.

In the last few days, a new blog called "UAW for Sanity" has appeared and begun to push back against the folks advocating a NO vote. It purports to be a "grassroots" blog, but at least three of the five authors are members of the UAW joint council. Not that that makes their opinion irrelevant, but it certainly makes the idea that this constitutes some surge of "grassroots" outrage laughable. As @santacruztacean put it the other day,

One final note: as of this moment, 946 people have pledged to vote NO. Last day of voting is Thursday. At Berkeley, you can vote at Sather Gate and North Gate from 8am - 4pm, and at Kroeber Hall from 10am - 2pm.

[Update 12/2]: More on the UAW's astroturf blog here. Also, an interesting recording of a confrontation at a polling station at UC Irvine is here. Paid UAW staffers (non-students) have been brought in to get people to approve the contract:
4 Paid and bias[ed] UAW Staffers were spotted on the Palo Verde (Graduate) Housing Bridge. Reports are that they were at the polling table and that one of them was “removed” and replaced by a less biased one.

Below, you may listen to the audio recording of the incident linked from the UC Rebel Radio Audio Archives. The louder voice at around 10:00 (and before) is the person operating the poll. He is a paid staffer, not a student. He talks at length to this graduate student about the contract, especially around 15:00, where he discusses what the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ would mean. He says things like “A ‘NO’ vote is not caring for childcare”. It is pretty fucked up.

At 16:20 Coral (a Union polling member) tells him he is out of line. Someone then text messages Fawn (UCI physics graduate, statewide elections committee person) to tell her this shit is fucking crazy. Someone tells Coral they want to put the recorder on the table. She then calls Fawn about this. Fawn shortly shows up to take over operating the poll.