UCPD draws criticism for stopping Occupy Cal protesters carrying signs

After a student was cited by UCPD Wednesday afternoon for carrying large banners in front of Boalt Hall during Occupy Cal demonstrations, an email was sent out advising UC Berkeley School of Law students to avoid the West entrance of the building due to heavy police presence and confrontational incidents.

UCPD officers informed the law school’s officials that they were under direct orders to stop anyone carrying large signs and banners and to ask for immediate identification, according to the email from Kathleen Vanden Heuvel, associate dean of capital projects and adjunct professor of law at the UC Berkeley School of Law.

Signs larger than 30 by 30 inches are not allowed on campus, according to UCPD Lt. Alex Yao. Students could either surrender the signs to UCPD for destruction or they could leave campus with the sign, Yao said.

“There have been some confrontational incidents in the last couple of hours that demonstrate that the officers expect immediate compliance with their request for ID,” Vanden Heuvel said in the email. “While we do not understand UCPD’s position on this issue, we cannot control or direct UCPD’s behavior and we are concerned for your safety and well being.”

Protesters carrying banners were asked to produce immediate identification so that the police could identify whether or not they were affiliates of the university, and therefore subject to the campus Student Code of Conduct, Yao said.

“I don’t know if law students were familiar with UC regulations … but the police response came across as overly aggressive, upsetting our students,” said Susan Gluss, spokesperson for the school.

UCPD’s attempts to seize banners from students drew letters of condemnation from Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington and veterans and historians of the 1964 Free Speech Movement.

In an email sent out Wednesday, Worthington requested that Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and UCPD Chief Mitch Celaya inform officers to stop seizing banners and return those that were inappropriately seized.

“It is unfortunate and unacceptable that the UCPD are vandalizing and removing free speech banners from the event,” he said in the email. “Please stop this behavior now.”

Members of the Free Speech Movement Archives also sent an email condemning the actions of the police who they said suppressed the students’ first amendment rights that were recognized 47 years ago during the Free Speech Movement in 1964.

“We were shocked by the actions of campus police who seized banners from students peacefully demonstrating in Sproul Plaza and on the Sproul Steps,” they said in the email.