“Out-gunned”: campus response to protest

Anna Vignet/Senior Staff

The 2011 UC Berkeley Deans and Chairs Retreat, held on Aug. 18, featured a presentation by the administration on the topic of campus activism — what the past few years have taught and what the recent tuition hike and other policy and administrative changes might augur for this academic year. This is a topic of considerable importance given recent decisions made by the state legislature, the UC Regents and on our campus that are strongly affecting the lives of students, workers, staff and faculty. This year, some may choose individually and collectively to protest these decisions and to do so on the Berkeley campus in various ways.

I was not at the Deans and Chairs retreat, but in conversation with Barrie Thorne and Peter Glazer, who were present, I learned that a member of Chancellor Birgeneau’s cabinet, recalling the occupation of Wheeler Hall on Nov. 20, 2009 and other student actions, said that the administration had been “out-gunned” by students in terms of wireless technology and social media. This speaker’s choice of phrase is, at best, a regrettable metaphor.

Let us remember who was “out-gunned” in 2009, for it raises questions regarding how the administration and UCPD might respond to future protest events on campus. This is not to dwell upon the events of Nov. 20, but to take responsible measure of them and to act upon what we’ve learned.

On Nov. 20, the administration’s decision to militarize the protest space and campus — escalated through its mutual aid call to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office — threatened overwhelmingly nonviolent protesters, concerned onlookers and passersby with an aggressive display of firearms by law enforcement, including FN 303s, which closely resemble machine guns, 37 mm launchers used for deploying tear gas and smoke and side arms. Students and others outside Wheeler came with anger, confusion, curiosity, dismay and fear, and the sight of such weaponry escalated tension and worry.

Let’s be clear: This was not merely display. One student, allegedly pushing against a barricade, was shot in the stomach with a rubber projectile. Others, some defenseless, were severely injured by the use of police batons.

The violence by law enforcement on Nov. 20 was well documented and widely condemned (see, for instance, the Nov. 22, 2009 “Open Letter from Concerned Members of the Faculty to Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau”). It was also addressed in detail by the report issued on June 14, 2010 by the Police Review Board, then chaired by Law School Professor Wayne Brazil (Chancellor Birgeneau’s response to the report can be found here).

The PRB report, which the Chancellor correctly requested, is sobering. It documents startling and multiple failures of communication by the administration and UCPD in the face of the Wheeler occupation as it began in the early morning, and throughout the negotiations, standoff and protest that continued until evening. The report’s authors are unambiguous in their concerns regarding the administration and UCPD’s inadequate procedures for responding to acts of civil disobedience. The June 14 report is also hopeful. It offers specific, common sense and sometimes far-reaching recommendations to the administration regarding how it should change its protocols of response to protest.

Now, more than one year since the  report was issued, when public higher education is facing even greater threats, the campus community is unable to judge whether or not, or how, the administration has responded to or implemented the PRB’s recommendations. The PRB acknowledges that by the time its report was issued some recommendations had already been implemented. But the administration is long overdue in providing the campus thorough explanation of the changes it has made to its procedures for communicating with the multiple constituencies of the campus community during protest events, its oversight over law enforcement and mutual aid and its position regarding the protection of free speech and assembly on campus.

The campus community has a right and a need to know what measures its leadership and law enforcement will now take in the face of possible protest, civil disobedience and even building occupation. The campus community likewise has a responsibility to understand these measures as well as the consequences of legal civil disobedience and what actions are not protected under the law. Recognition of these rights and responsibilities is imperative if we are, in such uncertain times, to take the long view of future possibilities for Berkeley and public higher education, as Professor Catherine Cole urged in her Aug 26, 2011 op-ed in The Daily Californian.

As I see it, there is no justification for violent protest on the Berkeley campus or for violent crackdown on peaceful protest. Militarization of the campus as a response to civil disobedience cannot be tolerated. Moreover, the use of metaphors such as out-gunning, battlegrounds and the like is conspicuously inappropriate for a university community.

According to several people who attended the recent Deans and Chairs Retreat, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer indicated that an announcement regarding the PRB report would be forthcoming from the administration in two months time. This is a good sign, but it comes more than a year after the report was delivered. This seems unreasonably delayed, and I cannot help but think of the zeal and rapidity with which the administration has made other major restructuring changes to the Berkeley campus, most notably in the case of Operational Excellence. I may not be alone in hoping that the administration sees the correction of dysfunctional and potentially dangerous procedures related to its response to campus protest as having as much importance as achieving managerial efficiency and cost-saving. Arguably, the implementation of the PRB’s recommendations should have priority, for reasons that pertain to the safety of the campus community and to this campus’s historic responsibility to observe and foster the rights of free speech and assembly.

Gregory Levine is an associate professor in the Department of History of Art at UC Berkeley.

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  • UCPD_Sociopaths

    So why does Celeya still have a job at UC?

  • Anonymous

    UC Berkeley students prevent further tuition increases.

    I love University of
    California (UC) having been a student and lecturer. But today I am concerned
    that at times I do not recognize the UC I love. Like so many Alumni, Donors, Legislators,
    and Californians I am deeply disappointed by the pervasive failures of UC
    senior management and regents.

    Californians suffers
    from 19% unemployment (includes those working part time, and those no longer
    searching), mortgage defaults, loss of unemployment benefits. And those who
    still have jobs are working longer for less. Chancellor/Faculty
    wages must reflect California’s
    ability to pay, not what others are paid.

    UC Berkeley (Cal) planned pay raises
    for generously paid Faculty is arrogance. UC Berkeley (ranked # 70 Forbes)
    tuition increases exceed national average rate of increase. Chancellor
    Birgeneau’s leadership molded Cal into the
    most expensive public university in the USA.

    Can we do better with
    a spirit of shared sacrifices by Faculty, Provosts, and Chancellors?

    (17,000 earn
    more than $100,000)

    No furloughs.   

    18 percent decrease UCOP
    salaries, $50 million budget cut.

    18 percent prune chancellors’ salaries.

    15 percent trim tenured faculty salaries,
    increase teaching.

    10 percent non-tenured faculty pay decrease,
    increase research, teaching.

    100% elimination
    of Academic Senate, Academic Council budgets.


    There is no
    question the necessary realignments with reality will be painful.


    UC Board of Regents Chair
    Sherry Lansing can bridge the public trust gap with reassurances salaries reflect
    depressed California
    wages. With UC’s shared financial sacrifices, the sky above
    UC will not fall.


    Yours is the
    voice that can make the difference, email UC Board of Regents   [email protected]


  • I have to laugh at the sqeamishness of these educrats over weapons, having at one time lived and worked in Israel where 19 year old girls and college students reporting to IDF  reserve duty regularly carried weapons and ammunition in public…

    • Guest

      Your sense of humor is chilling.

      • That’s how it rolls in the real world, which bears no resemblance to goo-goo liberal la-la land…

        • Guest

          In the late 60’s, Berkeley student protests were repressed by armed police and the National Guard.  At Kent State, the situation became even worse.  Nobody was joking about weapons.

  • Hws

    Don’t you have other worries??

    • UCPD_Sociopaths

      how is that relevant in the least?
      don’t want to hear about it?
      then don’t read the article