UC Berkeley instructors condemn police violence

A protester is brought to the ground by police in front of Sproul Hall.
David Herschorn/Staff
A protester is brought to the ground by police in front of Sproul Hall.

Three UC Berkeley faculty members have written an open letter to the campus administration — which already has over 500 signatures — condemning the police’s use of violence at Wednesday’s protest.

Julia Bryan-Wilson and Gregory Levine — both associate professors of history of art — and Peter Glazer, associate professor of theater, dance, and performance studies, penned the letter at the behest of a faculty caucus of approximately 45 teachers which met Thursday morning, according to an email from Bryan-Wilson. The letter, addressed to Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, campus administrators and the UC Board of Regents, had garnered 517 signatures by 11:45 a.m. Saturday. (This number was still growing rapidly at the time of this post. Seventeen signatures were added to the letter in the 20 minutes it took to write this post.)

The letter, signed by professors, lecturers and graduate student instructors, first and foremost decries the violent tactics used by police at Wednesday’s protest, which the letter argues “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.”

— An excerpt from the letter

It also touches on topics going far beyond the police violence as well. The letter addresses police action surrounding the occupy movement and the university’s response to the state’s disinvestment in public higher education.

Ultimately, the letter expresses no confidence in Birgeneau and other campus administrators, who the letter accuses of not responding appropriately to student protests, not securing student welfare and not respecting the freedom of speech and assembly on the campus; and in the regents, who the letter alleges have failed to fight for state funding of higher education.

Read the full text of the letter below and view the list of signatories online.


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.