November 11, 2011
Open Letter to Chancellor Birgeneau, the UC Berkeley administration, and the UC Regents:
We, the undersigned faculty, lecturers, and graduate student assistants—all of whom teach at Berkeley and are invested in the educational mission of this university—are outraged by the unnecessary and excessive use of violence by the police and sheriff’s deputies against peaceful protesters at UC Berkeley beginning on Wednesday, November 9, 2011.
We will not tolerate this assault on the historic legacy of free speech on this campus.
The protests on Sproul Plaza on November 9 were organized by a coalition of undergraduates, graduates, faculty, union members, and staff to clearly articulate links between the privatization of the university, the global financial crisis, the burdens of student debt, and the composition and power of the UC Regents, whose actions demonstrate a lack of concern with sustaining the public character of the UC system. The principles of these protests reach well beyond the Berkeley campus.
After a large demonstration at Sproul and a march into the city of Berkeley, the protesters formed a General Assembly that called for a non-violent encampment under the name Occupy Cal. As the encampment was being established, protesters were immediately met with physical violence by the police, including the jabbing and striking of students and others with batons. This assault by UCPD and Alameda County riot police against those peacefully assembled led to the forcible arrests of 39 protesters and one faculty member. Associate Professor Celeste Langan offered her wrist to the police in surrender, saying “arrest me, arrest me,” but was nevertheless aggressively pulled by her hair to the ground and cuffed. This began a series of tense confrontations—punctuated by further police violence—that lasted throughout the night and has persisted on our campus. The spectacle of police brutalizing members of our community does inestimable damage to our integrity, our reputation, and our standing as a public university.
We are appalled by the Chancellor’s account, in his November 10 “Message to the Campus Community,” that the police were “forced to use their batons.” We strenuously object to the charge that protesters—by linking arms and refusing to disperse—engaged in a form of “violence” directed at law enforcement. The protests did not justify the overwhelming use of force and severe bodily assault by heavily armed officers and deputies. Widely-circulated documentation from videos, photographs, and TV news outlets make plainly evident the squad tactics and individual actions of members of the UCPD and Alameda County Sheriff’s Department. This sends a message to the world that UC Berkeley faculty, staff, and student protesters are regarded on their own campus with suspicion and hostility rather than treated as participants in civil society.
We call on the Berkeley administration to immediately put an end to these grotesquely out-scale police responses to peaceful protest. We insist that the administration abandon the premise that the rigid, armed enforcement of a campus regulation, in circumstances lacking any immediate threat to safety, justifies the precipitious use of force.
We call upon the Chancellor to comply fully and in a timely manner with the Public Record Act request made in writing by the ACLU on November 10. We also call upon the Chancellor to initiate an independent investigation, separate from that to be undertaken by the campus Police Review Board, to ensure a fair review of events and procedures to prevent such attacks on free speech from happening in the future.
We also express our concern with the repressive policing that has occurred around the wider Occupy Wall Street movement—including Occupy Oakland, where undue force has led to numerous injuries such as those sustained by Iraq veteran Scott Olson. In solidarity with Occupy Cal and the Occupy movements around the country, we condemn these police acts unequivocally.
We call for greater attention to the substantive issues raised at the protests on November 9 regarding the privatization of education. With massive cuts in state funding and rising tuition costs across the community college system, the Cal State network, K-12, and the University of California, public education is undergoing a severe divestment. Student debt has reached unprecedented levels as bank profits swell. We decry the growing privatization and tuition increases that are currently heavily promoted by the corporate UC Board of Regents.
We express NO CONFIDENCE in the Regents, who have failed in their responsibility to fight for state funding for public education, and have placed the burden of the budget crisis on the backs of students.
We express NO CONFIDENCE in the willingness of the Chancellor, and other leaders of the UC Berkeley administration, to respond appropriately to student protests, to secure student welfare, and to respect freedom of speech and assembly on the Berkeley campus.