State legislature to hold hearings on police use of force on UC campuses

Police attempt to break through a line of students on Nov. 9 during the Occupy Cal protests.
Tony Zhou/Staff
Police attempt to break through a line of students on Nov. 9 during the Occupy Cal protests.

The state legislature will hold hearings next month on the police use of force during protests on University of California campuses over the past two weeks.

The hearings, requested by state Assemblymember and Chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee Marty Block, D-San Diego, were approved by Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, Tuesday, according to a press release from Perez’s office.

The public hearings will be held jointly by the Assembly Higher Education Committee and the Senate Education Committee on Dec. 14, according to a release from Block’s office.

Block said he scheduled the hearing with the intent of doing some “fact finding” about the force used against students at UC Berkeley and UC Davis.

“Everyone is seeing these events unfolding, and folks up and down the state are appalled, and it’s raising a lot of questions about the role of the police in the UC,” said John Vigna, press secretary for Perez.

As of Tuesday, the final guest list for the hearing has yet to be determined. But at a minimum, representatives from the UC and CSU, as well as some student groups, will be invited, according to Vigna.

The move comes on the heels of recent protests at UC Berkeley, where police used batons to break through a line of protesters who had linked arms, and UC Davis, where police pepper sprayed demonstrators who were sitting with arms linked in the campus’s quad. The actions elicited widespread outcry — including from UC President Mark Yudof, UC Board of Regents Chair Sherry Lansing and numerous faculty groups throughout the system — with some calling for UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi’s resignation.

Student Regent-designate Jonathan Stein said he fears that the hearing might draw attention away from other problems facing the university.

“We have to be paying attention to the underlying issues,” Stein said.

However, he said he does believe that the problems of police force and the problems of funding can be solved simultaneously.

In fact, Block said the hearing would certainly draw attention to the financial problems facing the campus.

“You can’t look at that video without thinking about why the students are out there,” he said. “To me, there’s a kind of synergy between the two issues.”

Birgeneau and Katehi pledged to investigate the police actions shortly after they occurred, but Yudof took it a step further by convening all 10 UC chancellors to discuss systemwide policies to ensure students’ right to protest.

Block said he does not think the hearing would take away anything from the ongoing internal investigations.

“Ideally, the internal investigation and discussion at the UC will reveal all that’s necessary to know about what happens and why it happens. But having an external investigation as well is certainly at least complementary, and we may be able to uncover things that legislation could solve that the internal investigation wouldn’t uncover,” he said.