OAKLAND — About 30 students, workers and Berkeley community members gathered at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse on Tuesday to show support for John Penilla, who appeared in court after he was arrested during a campus protest in March.
Penilla, who is being charged for misdemeanor trespassing and misdemeanor battery, according to his attorney EmilyRose Johns, overtook the stage at Zellerbach Hall during a campus event March 2, protesting the campus’s treatment of subcontracted workers.
During the Tuesday arraignment, Johns requested that Penilla’s arraignment be moved to a later date in order to demur the complaint. Johns said she filed a motion challenging the sufficiency of the evidence cited in the complaint and added that she is working to get the case dismissed.
“This case is a political prosecution in order to suppress students’ First Amendment activities,” Johns said. “If they don’t have the facts, they’ll drop it. Otherwise, they’ll amend the complaint.”
Demonstrators from the Student Labor Committee and AFSCME Local 3299, a labor union representing UC workers, have organized a number of protests, sit-ins and rallies since August, urging the campus to insource its subcontracted workers and compensate them as UC employees.
Several protesters were detained and cited for trespassing at the March protest, as previously stated by UCPD spokesperson Sabrina Reich, though they were released later that evening. Reich said Penilla was arrested for disobeying police officers’ orders and resisting arrest.
“It’s unfair and cruel that a student has to go through this burden. It’s obviously an intimidation tactic — they don’t want student organizers to organize,” said campus senior and SLC member Giancarlo Escobar. “It’s a tactic for the university to hinder our voice and movement.”
Penilla was later released from Berkeley City Jail and held on a $5,000 bail for resisting arrest, according to campus senior and SLC member Kristian Kim.
Kim alleged that the Center of Student Conduct is charging her for multiple counts of unauthorized conduct, failure to comply, disorderly conduct and obstruction of university activities. Concerned about the possible precedent set after a successful prosecution of either Penilla’s case or her own case, she alleged that the campus is trying to discourage students from protesting.
“What’s happening here is retaliation for the organizing we’ve been doing,” Kim said. “It’s a gross inflation of the charge.”
Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email that she could not address or confirm Kim’s case because of federal student privacy law. Gilmore emphasized, however, UC Berkeley’s commitment to and support for student organizing.
The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office could not be reached for comment on Penilla’s case.
Though the outcome of Penilla’s case remains uncertain, the demonstrators’ fight for the campus to insource subcontracted workers came to a head March 18 with the campus’s decision to insource 69 previously subcontracted workers as UC employees, ending the AFSCME speakers’ boycott on campus.
Penilla’s arraignment will be held April 18 at 9 a.m. at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse.