Berkeley Faculty Association calls for Birgeneau to condemn criminal charges against Nov. 9 protesters

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A group of UC Berkeley faculty members is calling upon Chancellor Robert Birgeneau to request that charges filed against demonstrators involved in Nov. 9 protests be dropped.

The Berkeley Faculty Association is currently circulating a petition that states that the chancellor should ask the Alameda County district attorney to drop all charges that have been filed against several protesters. Students Ricardo Gomez, Zakary Habash and Ramon Quintero and associate English professor Celeste Langan face several charges, including resisting arrest and remaining at the scene of a riot, according to county criminal dockets.

The petition — which has garnered about 300 signatures online so far — is only for campus faculty members, according to the association’s website. In addition to calling for the campus administration to condemn legal actions that constitute a “significant chilling of free speech and rights of free assembly on campus,” the petition references the campus division of the Academic Senate’s Nov. 28 vote to endorse four resolutions criticizing the administration’s handling of the Occupy Cal protest.

The petition was developed by professors Judith Baker, Richard Walker and Shannon Steen. Butler also authored a proposal that was passed by the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate last semester condemning the administration’s response and handling of the events of Nov. 9.

“We are calling for all charges against all protesters to be dropped,” Butler said about the faculty members’ petition in an email, adding that the petition will be circulated “as long as this process is ongoing.”

A similar petition — which was posted today and currently seeks 1,000 signatures from non-Berkeley faculty and students — is being circulated by UC Santa Barbara Professor Christopher Newfield, according to Butler.

Since those resolutions determined that the campus administration and police “were in the wrong” in the way they handled the protest, “legal and financial responsibility for the defense of the students and faculty charged falls squarely on the university,” the petition states.

Additionally, the petition asks that the administration be open to dialogue about the protest events with students. The campus Police Review Board has already held several public meetings in its investigation of the Nov. 9 protest events, which have allowed campus police and protesters to provide verbal and video testimony about police use of force. The board will submit a report to Birgeneau with recommendations for future practices during protests.

Read the full text of the petition below:

Condemn criminal charges against Nov. 9, 2011 Protesters by Alameda DA.

We, the undersigned faculty of the University of California, are dismayed by the criminal charges brought by the Alameda County District Attorney against several students and faculty engaged in campus protest on November 9th, 2011. We call upon Chancellor Birgeneau to request that the D.A. drop all charges against the campus protestors.

The D.A.’s decision represents a significant chilling of free speech and the rights of free assembly on campus, values officially enshrined in UC Berkeley’s Principles of Community (“We are committed to ensuring freedom of expression and dialogue that elicits the full spectrum of views held by our varied communities.” http://berkeley.edu/about/principles.shtml). Our administration must condemn any legal actions that undermine these values.

Indeed, as some of the students now being prosecuted were not even arrested on November 9th, these legal actions seem designed to criminalize those who are exercising basic rights of protest. We note as well that the faculty member now scheduled for arraignment was practicing non-violent civil disobedience and, after voluntarily offering herself for arrest, was dragged by the hair and thrown to the ground by police, sustaining injuries.

Moreover, we remind Chancellor Birgeneau that the faculty Senate has stated in the resolutions of November 28, 2011, that the university administration and the police were in the wrong in their handling of the November 9th demonstrations. Hence, should the prosecution go forward, the legal and financial responsibility for the defense of the students and faculty charged falls squarely on the university.

Finally, we ask that the administration reply in the affirmative to any student request to enter into a public discussion of these issues, and we support efforts to open up dialogue to find resolution for these events rather than the prosecution of rights of protest.