End student brutality — a call to disarm


Stop the violence.

It is time once and for all to put an end to student brutality on the campus of UC Berkeley.

In the wake of violent student action against UCPD and Alameda County Sheriff’s Office deputies last Wednesday, we are once again reminded of the dangerous menace the University of California Berkeley student body can become at a moment’s notice. UCPD Captain Margo Bennett confirmed what all conscionable people were thinking when she pointed out that students linking arms “in itself is an act of violence,” with Chancellor Robert Birgeneau seconding that sentiment by declaring that linking arms “is not non-violent civil disobedience.”

After such a vicious display of armed force right here on our own campus, all that we as a student body can do is thoroughly engage ourselves in some much-needed self-reflection. We must ask ourselves how the line between peaceful protest and violent action could be so easily crossed by a student body that has traditionally stood on the anti-violence side of protest actions. We must also confront the frightening reality that one group of American citizens can thoughtlessly and willfully engage in a forceful attack on their brother citizens, despite a tacit organizational intent for safety and the serving of the greater good — certainly a foundation on which all virtuous student groups are based.

But most truly, we must avoid the impulse to blame the victims of this arm-ed violence, because victim-blaming often is the unfortunate outcome in cases of institutionalized abuse — especially in a situation where victims had every opportunity to fight back, but exercised the utmost restraint.

Thankfully the social phenomenon of victim-blaming, and victim guilt is well known, so it stands to reason that the victims of this attack can avoid added psychological trauma. We can hope for the best, but already our own Chancellor Birgeneau somehow has felt the need to offer an excuse for peace officers’ conduct last Wednesday.

In his admission of “regret (that) police were forced to use their batons,” the chancellor has at once planted the seeds for victim-blaming while at the same time actually qualified student aggressors’ claims of provocation by bothering to issue an explanation for the defensive police actions.

The admission of regret shows the chancellor’s actions to be irresponsible and dangerous to the UC Berkeley community. What we need from Birgeneau is fair leadership, not a concession to student militarization.

But despite the campuswide email’s potentially negative consequences for the police victims of student violence on Wednesday, the chancellor’s letter will result in at least one positive accomplishment. Cal parents and alumni will be tickled to hear about the university’s punitive, take-no-prisoners approach to violent student behavior. Students’ parents who likely are no strangers to their children’s dangerous behavior — seeing as how they ended up at Cal — will surely appreciate the heavy-handed tactics on their procreations.

In fact, we can expect that as the chief campus dignitary and face of the university, the chancellor’s subsidiary role as Cal’s head fundraiser will be bolstered by his sanctioning of the fierce police response to violently armed students. At a time when our campus faces the concerns of an annual parade of unprecedented budget cuts, Chancellor Birgeneau’s fortuitous acceptance of the officers’ use of batons against students with similar concerns can only help the university’s financial situation. As proof, when I attempted to contact the Office of the Chancellor to voice my approval of his handling of the protest, I could not get through — probably due to the legions of parents and alumni attempting to get information on how to donate to Cal.

For the students who participated with their violently linked arms, we can only hope they will give credit where credit is due and appreciate the way the chancellor and campus administration have handled the Occupy Cal protest. The campus’s interests have been served and Cal’s pro-activist reputation has been upheld — university fundraising efforts have never looked more promising and should easily offset the tide of coming lawsuits.

Say what you will about the utter failure of the UC Board of Regents and chancellor to secure an acceptable level of state funding — the Berkeley administrators have earned a stay of the growing calls for their resignations with their grand promotion of the Berkeley brand upon the world stage.

While some across the globe may be swayed by emotional commentaries pointing out the cracked and bruised ribs sustained and that even professors and poet laureates fell victim police blows, we must remember that faculty was targeted for the same violent reasons students were — the violent and abusive act of linking arms.

Unlike other embroiled administrations, UC Berkeley has shown that it will not tolerate abuse on any level. UCPD exercised appropriate force based on regular riot procedures. Instead of first targeting green body-strike-zones like arms and legs, officers can be seen repeatedly jabbing the abdomen, a yellow-zone in close proximity to red-zones such as the groin and solar plexus.

In response to the violence officers encountered, strike-zone escalation only makes sense — if it is the student’s linked-arms that constitute the violence, officers must avoid these areas at all cost to ensure their own safety.

But as often happens in cases of abuse, assailants overshadow the victims of violence. We must never forget the victims of Wednesday’s Occupy Cal violence.