Dear Fellow Education Activists,
I'm writing today with an impassioned and profoundly frustrated heart about what is happening on our campus at UC Berkeley, the so-called "home of the Free Speech Movement," and beyond. It's extremely important to share this story with all of you, should it become a larger precedent for political repression--indeed, recent developments with Occupy Oakland suggest that it already is (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/21/occupy-oakland-protesters-stay-away?newsfeed=true). I'm also seeking your support to help pressure District Attorney Nancy O'Malley to drop the unjust charges against political activists.
As many of you know, on November 9th, several hundred students, professors, and community members attempted to erect an Occupy Cal encampment on this campus, an action that was part of a multi-year series of events to raise awareness about the effects of educational privatization and to build a movement that challenges this process. On November 9th, we were twice met with very brutal police force (itself a product of privatization), as the UCPD, working alongside several other area police departments, beat us with batons, dragging individuals by their hair from a line of peaceful protesters who had linked arms in front of our small encampment. Many individuals were very seriously injured as a result of this well-documented scene (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buovLQ9qyWQ), and they sought medical attention for broken ribs, bloody gashes, and nerve damage inflicted by the police. Moreover, email exchanges recently made public show that UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau was not only aware of the situation that day but that he sanctioned it.
In early March, thirteen individuals (one of whom is a professor on this campus and several of whom have been very active in Occupy Education NorCal) received misdemeanor criminal charges in association with the November 9th events, charges which could result in fines of $1000 and up to a year in jail. Crucially, the majority of those being charged were not arrested that day, begging questions about how they were identified and targeted nearly four months later. The charges themselves raise additional red flags, with "malicious blocking of a sidewalk or public thoroughfare" being the most common: never before has that inconveniently located grassy space near the hedges to the north of Sproul Hall constituted a public thoroughfare of any kind, and if anything "malicious" happened on November 9th, I assure you, it was on the part of the police, not those who've been singled out for these charges. Moreover, the ACLU of Northern California has confirmed that the UCPD sought and obtained records from local hospitals and medical centers in an effort to help identify individuals who were later charged--not incidentally, the chargees were among the most seriously injured. Finally, the fact that most of the thirteen members of this cohort have been highly visible activists in the fight for public education over the past several years strongly suggests that these unjust charges represent a targeted attempt to silence political dissent.
Twelve people were arraigned this week, all of whom received "stay away" orders for all UC property. These orders dictate that the charged not individuals set foot on any UC campus unless it is to attend class (and in one case, to fulfill union duties), and these court orders are undoubtedly designed to disrupt the inter-campus network we're working so hard to build and to paralyze our collective public education movement. Judge Peter Seeman casually dismissed concerns raised by one individual's attorney that the stay away orders are in clear violation of First Amendment rights to free speech and free assembly.
We cannot stand by while the legal system silences our brothers and sisters, and we cannot let the administrative bodies slow the momentum of our powerful movement. Please join me in standing in solidarity with these and other activists facing unjust charges and political repression by letting District Attorney Nancy O'Malley know what you think:
Mailing address: Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse / 661 Washington Street, Oakland, CA 94607
Phone: (510) 268-7500
Fax: (510) 839-0391
Beezer de Martelly
Graduate Student and Public Education Activist
P.S. Please visit the following blog for up-to-date information on the November 9th charges: http://berkeleynov9.wordpress.com/