Community reacts to Occupy Cal and Chancellor’s response

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau:

Your recent “Message to Campus Community” avows solidarity with students regarding their anger about the steady public “disinvestment in public higher education.” Nevertheless, you explain that you have necessarily enacted a “no encampment” policy.

Students neglected to ask permission and failed to abide by your rules of engagement. You express your “regret that the campus police were forced to use their batons to enforce the policy.” Your police captain opines that “linking arms in a human chain when ordered to step aside is not a nonviolent protest.” This Orwellian thinking makes the mind reel: Arm linking and tent pitching is violent and club wielding is peace keeping.

An earlier occupation converted university property into People’s Park. University police overreacted, injuring many and killing one: James Rector.

The campus now has Mario Savio Steps and a Free Speech Cafe. How ironic! Campus plaques declare that students are entering the “property of the UC Regents.” Student occupiers are not bamboozled. They know their property rights and are teaching the most important lessons on campus.

Unlike the Penn State community, we will not turn our heads or be silenced when we witness our young people being violated and abused by a most odious machine.

— George Killingsworth, Berkeley resident


Dear Chancellor,

You have spoken several times about what makes Cal special. Two of which are Cal’s Peace Corps leadership and the campus’s commitment to values such as excellence, fairness and justice.

After I graduated in 2007, I served with the Peace Corps in Senegal, West Africa for over three years. I worked in agriculture and community development. Living and working with Senegalese farmers, I helped implement President Obama’s “Feed the Future” initiative. An agribusiness I helped launch during my service is now working with over 400 women farms in 25 communities and is expanding.

The education and preparation I received at Cal was a key determinant in my success in the Peace Corps. Today I work for a USAID-funded project that improves the quality and performance of public health institutions in the developing world. Everyday, I practice what I learned at Cal and use my experiences from the Peace Corps to guide my approach to working with counterparts who are citizens of developing nations.

I was disgusted to see the video of the UCPD beating students on Nov. 9. Your letter to the campus blaming the victims and justifying this crime of violence casts a poor light on Berkeley’s principles and values. It shows an amazing lack of wisdom and common decency for you to accuse the Cal students of not engaging in non-violent protest. I am terribly offended by your commentary and the actions of UCPD. They cast a dark light on Berkeley’s legacy and standing in the world.

I am active in the Cal Alumni Club of Washington, D.C. Every Cal alumni member I have talked to is concerned by this issue. It not only reflects poorly on UC Berkeley as an institution but also on those who have attended and studied there.

The police actions and your lack of leadership and responsibility are inimical to the values I learned at Cal.

With full sincerity, and in the great tradition of Cal, I call on you and the UCPD police chief to resign immediately.

— Nathan Danielsen, UC Berkeley ’07


Along with many others, I watched in shock as riot police twice responded with violent force to Nov. 9’s peaceful protest on the lawn next to Sproul Hall.

Had he been physically present at the demonstration, I somewhat doubt that Chancellor Birgeneau would have had the stomach to condone the violence against students, faculty and staff exercising free speech. Perhaps it should be his policy to attend future protests in person before authorizing the use of riot police, a response that effectively guarantees the acts of violence against members of the Cal community.

— Ethan Lavine, masters candidate in city planning at UC Berkeley


An Open Letter to Chancellor Birgeneau,

Your recent letter to the campus community rings false. You attempt to justify a violent response to a peaceful assembly as a practical matter of your inability to manage the “hygiene, safety, space and conflict issues that emerge when an encampment takes hold and the more intransigent individuals gain control.”

The administration has the ability to manage the militarization of our campus with busloads of armed and poorly trained riot control officers from agencies all over the bay area, but can’t manage to figure out how to allow people to go to the bathroom?

Your administration’s actions continue to embarrass and shame the entire campus.

Ultimately you justify your response by saying you were merely upholding a policy. But you fail to justify a policy that interferes with the rights of the entire campus community to peacefully assemble and their right to free speech.

— Andrew Galpern, graduate student researcher at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education.

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  • Anonymous

    Standing up with your arms spread out is nonviolent.  Standing up with your arms blocking an exit door of a movie theater on fire is violent.  Reading Chaucer is nonviolent.  Reading Chaucer while preventing police from rescuing a man about to commit suicide, that is violent too. 

    • somebody

      Yes, you’re 100% right–blocking people in a burning theater or preventing the rescue of a suicidal man is not justifiable.   The problem, however, is that your examples are useless in this particular case and are very irrelevant.  Linking arms to surround a otherwise harmless encampment is not violent protest.  Even if it technically is against campus policy to make an encampment on Sproul, what’s the point of sending scores of riot cops in to disperse it?  If a large number of people are trying to make a statement by setting up an encampment and they are succeeding and the only way to get it removed is to call in riot cops to beat the people off the ground, then maybe the people really have something to say.  By all means let them say it.  You have to look at the situation from a broader perspective.  You have to look at the bigger picture.

      The funny thing is that the police action only caused more people to show up at the rally.  They shot themselves in the foot on that one.  A little kid that wants to annoy a parent will continue to annoy the parent so long as the parent lets the child know that he or she is annoyed.  If the parent ignores the kid, then the kid will eventually stop being annoying.  The exact same thing happened here.And by the way, the world does not change by having protests where people are peacefully arrested and comply in the strictest sense of the term.  It changes through intense moments like these when the people make a statement against authority.  And what’s the problem with disobeying the law, anyway.  People who abide by the law for the sake of being law abiding citizens, and nothing more, are missing the picture entirely.  People should behave according to personal ethics, not rules of conduct that are imposed on us by law agencies.  By the way, the Founding Fathers broke the law of the land when they declared their independence.  Should they have “peacefully protested” the Brits and let themselves be “peacefully” arrested instead?  Obviously not.  Nothing would have happened.  Sometimes the law has to be broken.  That doesn’t mean billy clubs must be pulled out.

  • UCMeP

    Why Occupy Cal when you can Mockupy Cal?

  • Guest

    Why didn’t they just issue citations to students who broke the no tent rule?  Seem easy enough to fine a student for each day or hour that they break the rule.  You don’t even need riot police for that, and no one would get hurt. 

    • Anonymous

       When a homeless person sleeps in a cafe’s doorway he is not merely cited and left to sleep for 24 hours.  He is immediately removed by police.  Protesters putting up tents are not expressing political speech and are no different from junkies looking to sleep off a wild binge on public property.

      • Person

        But the homeless person isn’t trying to make a statement…

        • Stan De San Diego

          So the fact that you’re “making a statement” allows you to break the law? How special…

  • Hannah

    I am an English Major in my fifth year and I am appalled by what happened on Tuesday and Chancellor Birgeneau’s response the events.

    Within the email that was sent out on November 10th is stated, “We call on the protesters to observe campus policy or, if they choose to defy the policy, to engage in truly non-violent civil disobedience and to accept the consequences of their decisions.” First, I would like to inquire about a term: not just non-violent but “truly” non-violent. Where was the violence presented by those linking arms? The only less violent action I can think of is being obedient. Is this to say that we can make noise and hold signs but there really is no form of non-violent civil disobedience that we can use to protest? In this case it seems to me that you are stating that we need to be obedient or, if we choose to defy the policy, just don’t. Be obedient.

    I spoke with Officer Adon (I don’t recall his last name) on Thursday to become better informed as far as why the police brutality occurred. While speaking he said that they cannot pick and choose what they can allow when punishing people who break rules; there is no opinion brought into the matter, laws are laws. Later thinking about this I thought about the first amendment. The first amendment, as reprinted on the internet by Cornell University Law School ( ), “protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. Freedom of expression consists of the rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and the implied rights of association and belief.” With the first amendment in mind, I wish to return to Officer Adon’s idea that laws are laws, the officers cannot pick and choose: what about freedom of expression? Officer Adon said that the protesters were violating rules and doing things (setting up camp) as they were specifically told not to do. He said that they (the police) could not pick and choose what they allow, and yet they seem hypocritical in their response. If the police cannot pick and choose then they cannot pick and choose what they allow, or what acts of speech they think permit them to violently assult people!

    The letter sent out on the 10th also gave reason for not permitting tents: “We want to clarify our position on “no encampments” so you better understand why we do not allow this to occur on our campus.  When the no-encampment policy was enacted, it was born out of past experiences that grew beyond our control and ability to manage safely.” So, people are jabbed and beat with batons “for their own safety?” Why not just leave the control to the people who are in charge of setting it up, rather than bat at defenseless people and say that you are doing it for their own good?

    In another point against the brutality, if what was demonstrated on the 9th is “not non-violent” and we are treated like such, why not resort to more serious forms of violence to get our point across? No, this is not the answer, nor do I intend to do this, but the act of attacking defenseless protesters as though they are armed and dangerous makes it questionable as to why we should not take it farther if we are already experiencing the same forms of being reprimanded.

    In the letter you sent out on Nov 10 you said, “It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents.” From how I see it, it is unfortunate that some police officers, who are supposed to be protecting the students, took it on themselves to beat people and thereby manifest undue violence.

    One of the top priority of the University of California, Berkeley is the safety and security of students. The UCPD is supposed to ensure the safety of the campus. Oddly, in what is claimed to be a response necessary to maintain safety, the officers increased violence on campus and decreased safety for students. Within your letter it states, “The police were forced to use their batons to enforce the policy.” I am stumped, how did harming people enforce a policy of not having a tent on campus? 

    The tent on campus that the police were aiming to take away was referred to as “the crime scene.” I disagree. While the tent was there despite official commands not to do so, the brutality of the police officers was the real crime scene. 

    On November 9th I had to leave the campus to deal with personal medical issues that I have. I am shocked to think that thanks to the fact that I was dealing with an MS relapse my health and well-being are the better for it because I was not thrown to the ground or beaten. 

    Continuing this evaluation of the events a day after what I initially wrote:

    Today I was informed that Chancellor Birgeneau was asked by reporters if he really though that the police officers actions were justified. While asking this I heard that the reporters played a clip of the police brutality and that he was shocked. From that was sparked not an agreement from the Chancellor but an investigation into the brutality demonstrated by the police. I agree with this reaction and response to witnessing what happened, but I am very surprised and upset by our Chancellor’s lack of involvement with what is happening on campus, and the fact that he blindly supported the police without knowing what happened. 

    If we are a campus community, CAL community, we need to all be working together.

    • [I am an English Major in my fifth year and I am appalled by what
      happened on Tuesday and Chancellor Birgeneau’s response the events.]

      I am appalled that you’re an English Major in your fifth year. I can understand some Engineering or double-major types in their fifth year, or transfer students in their third year, but come on now, 5 years to complete an ENGLISH degree?

      No wonder the University is broke…

      • Brendan P

        Tony, you’re a meathead and a buffoon.  This woman writes a rich, eloquent response and you disparage her for taking five years to complete an English degree.  One wonders the source of your anger.  Some type of impotence, surely.  Where does this assumption that and English degree is any less admirable and valuable than a science degree come from?  You are so, so disgustingly ignorant! So sad that you can’t respond rationally to what this young lady writes, but must attack her person based on faulty assumptions stemming from your ignorance and impotence?  It must be that you too support the use of violence to quell the free speech of non-violent protesters.  What a brave man you are!

        • Andre Louis

          I think you’ll find Tony an intelligent and insightful person if you read his comments on this site routinely.

          That said, 5 year English degrees, viewed from the right angle, are far from irrelevant to this conversation. Student debt and the price of education are two of the main issues Occupy Cal protesters are complaining about. Mortgaging their futures in exchange for the ability to be more effective at spouting off left wing propaganda (see: the instructional mission, to one degree or another, of every non-science department on this campus) instead of the opportunity to make significant contributions to the modern technological and industrial order does NOTHING to improve their situation or anyone else’s.

           Hannah, barring a trip to some sort of professional school, will be underemployed (read: stocking shelves at Home Depot or something barely elevated above that position) for years, and who will she blame? “The system,” that’s who. Right. It’s not that you’re useless because you have no practical skills of any kind, it’s that everyone else screwed you. That’s called “narcissism,” Brendan, look it up.

          And for all the morons around here who apparently don’t know anything about the history of civil disobedience, GETTING ARRESTED IS PRECISELY THE POINT. “Non-violent resistance” doesn’t mean “as long as we don’t maim or kill anyone, we should be allowed to do whatever the hell we want!” It means BREAKING THE LAW and ACCEPTING THE CONSEQUENCES for doing so.  Forming a chain to block law enforcement from carrying out their duties is NOT “non-aggressive” just because you simple-minded fools think that violence must mean explicitly injuring someone and that anything short of that is just peachy. The law makes it abundantly clear that that is not the case.

          Oh, and the 90% of Cal students that don’t five a flying **** about these hippies or their “movement,” probably would rather not have Sproul, a main congregational point and entryway into the campus, covered with the fecal matter of brain-addled homeless people and all the other garbage that would almost certainly accompany an encampment. Bravo, Chancellor Birgeneau. Bravo.

          • Brendan P

            Um … so … you agree that Tony M is right to insult someone because she is an English major in the fifth year, and you agree that English majors have no practical skills and are unemployable?  I find these assumptions repellent.  English is a strong degree for those wishing to pursue careers in law and teaching, for instance.  I’ve taught English majors who have gone on to the best medical schools in the country — in part because they can read well, write well, think creatively, and generally use language in productive, valuable ways (as opposed to simply calling people “trash” and the like, as would a sexually frustrated and vulnerable adolescent male).  Your assumptions, both of you, are laughably stupid. There is hatred in your hearts.  There is a reason why English is regularly among the most popular majors here and elsewhere.  It’s not simply because sometimes these courses are less demanding (though I flatly reject this as a generality – and I have taken and aced engineering/stat/calculus courses in my time), and not simply because students like literature.  It’s also because it prepares them for a number of genuine and “useful,” even well-paying, vocations.  Andre, your assumptions about society and your own value are under attack.  You cringe perhaps because you are a tool and a slave, full of hatred for others and self-loathing.  You would never stand up for what you believe in, so you call protesters “garbage” — that’s so, so sad.  Your anger makes you seem like a bitter, shriveled up little nothing of a man.

      • SomeBody

        Without the funding that the Engineering department receives, humanity majors lack resources and sometimes have to cut classes. Without those classes offered, some students need to attend CAL for longer just to get the classes required to graduate.
        You said that you can “understand some Engineering or double-major types in their fifth year, or transfer students in their third year…” and that statement could provide the answer for you: it’s a understanding issue–on your part. Rather than bash on Hannah because you don’t understand, why not ask her why it is taking her this long. CAL is for learning. I’ll give you an example to get you started:

        How does a student studying for an extra year and paying  increasing tuition fees lead to the University being broke?
        I could bash on you for saying what you did, but I’ll give you a chance to explain it to me and not ASSume that it’s wrong.

        • Anonymous

          If you take longer than necessary to graduate and you get financial aid, then you are using up money that could go to more needy Californians.  And if you get financial aid, you don’t really pay increased tuition because the wealthy students make up the difference.

          • Hannah

            But isn’t Tony is just assuming that about Hannah (the original poster). For all you know she pays full tuition.

      • Hannah

        My response to you is from a different Hannah than the original post that you responded to so please don’t think about making a snide remark about the name coincidence. I shouldn’t have to hide my name because of it.

    • Anonymous

      “Freedom of expression consists of the rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly and to petition the government…”
      Note that freedom of expression does not include sleeping and camping.  What are you expressing when you snore?   Since you are not engaging in protected free speech, you must cease and desist if ordered to do so by law enforcement officials. 

      • Person

        Are you suggesting that they buy snore strips?

      • somebody

        You’re being way too literal Calipenguin… Putting up a tent on Sproul Plaza and camping out there for a few days is effective in getting a message across and garnering attention, and is therefore a form of expression.  The reason the police tore down the tents was because it was not a safe form of protected free speech, not that it was not protected free speech” as you seem to think.  Protestors in the Civil Rights movement partook in sit ins at lunch counters in the South to make a point about Jim Crow laws in segregated America.  Was that not a form of expression?  If you honestly think not you are hopeless.

  • Some person

    “An earlier occupation converted university property into People’s Park.”
    Which is an excellent argument for getting rid of this one as quickly as possible!

    Also, equating this, even tangentially to the Penn State CHILD RAPE cover up is sickening. That’s why no one takes Berkeley people seriously…they have an over-inflated sense of self-importance.

    • The People’s Park defense is a horrible argument. Obviously you aren’t familiar with People’s Park, Sproul Plaza, or the size, location, and history of either.

      Clearly your interest in this story has nothing to do with things those crazy, self-important “Berkeley people” care about, so why bother commenting on a local story written in a local paper?

  • Sara

    I certainly support the student’s right to speech and assembly, and I think some of the physical actions of the UCPD were clear examples of police brutality.   However, after watching the ridiculous investment of the tree-sitter encampment that wasted so much money and police time while serious crime was perpetuated on campus, I really understand why the Chanchellor did not want a repeat of that action. Many mentally ill homeless people moved in to take over the “protest” and it became a horrible sight where protestors were throwing excrement on police officers below the trees for months.

    It is horrible that the UCPD were allowed to use excessive force, and the brutal use of the batons should be disciplined.  It just seemed to be a few officers that were really excessive.  If the police chief was responsible for encouraging the excessive force, then yes, it seems that disciplinary action might be warranted.  I don’t necessarily see where the Chanchellor is at fault. The Chanchellor has probably been one of the few voices in support of the things the students are angry about…lack of state funding and the current waste in the system that have led to the tuition hikes.

    • Ricardo

      As Chancellor Birgeneau has publicly sanctioned the brutality against the students by UCPD and has agreed that “linking arms” is an act of violence that should be punished, I  am confused how anyone could logically support the Chancellor.

      • Sara

        I read his statement as saying that it was not the non-violent protest that many successful protests of the past have exhibited…protesters who intentionally allowed themselves to be peacefully arrested after a dispersal order…whether it was MLK, Ghandi, or those protesting the draft. I support the students speech and actions, and I abhor the police brutality. I do think that linking arms after a dispersal order is a physical move to resist arrest. Although maybe it could have been worded better; the Chanchellor seemed to be addressing the difference between these two tactics. The student movement would have much more weight if a hundred of them had peacefully gotten on the paddy wagon for a misdemeanor instead of linking arms. I support them and the Chanchellor. It is some police that acted wrongly from my perspective.

        • Guest

          They didn’t arrest many of the people they hit with batons, so to assume they wouldn’t have gone peacefully if they’d have just told them they were under arrest doesn’t seem logical.  In the videos they tell them to move a lot, but I don’t hear anything like, “if you don’t move you will be placed under arrest”.  Based on the fact that the students didn’t fight back I’m more inclined to believe they would have gone peacefully if arrested.   Lastly, I still can’t imagine why they had to physically remove the tents.  Citations are are regular occurance on College campuses all over the U.S.  A citation fining a student for putting up a tent would have been sufficient here.  Seems easy enough to give them a set amount of time to remove the tent themself before issuing another citation.  Giving that a shot prior to sending in riot police makes more sense to me. 

        • Guest

          sara, your clueless interpretation is evidence of the lowering of educational quality after the budget cuts

        • Guest

          Sara you’re either an idiot or a troll. Learn how to spell “Chancellor” and maybe how to read too, since the word Chancellor is spelt numerous times above. Also, the next time you decide to comment on the actions of protesters and condone the actions of the police involved, I suggest you join the front lines and see how much you agree with being billy-clubbed in the chest.