Criminal charges against Occupy Cal protesters discussed in town hall meeting

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Close to 40 students, faculty and community members assembled in the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union building Wednesday to discuss the criminal charges brought against several protesters from the Nov. 9 Occupy Cal protest.

The town hall was held to mobilize the campus in combating the charges filed against protesters, and many different strategies were discussed, from community organizing and legal defense to ways to hold the campus administration responsible for its alleged passivity.

“They know they are liable for the beatings and ridiculous false arrests,” said BAMN attorney Monica Smith, referring to campus administration, who although invited, did not attend the town hall meeting. “We need to make public the witch hunt against the leaders of the Occupy movement.”

Three UC Berkeley students and Associate English Professor Celeste Langan were arrested and charged for their involvement in the Nov. 9 protest. Four other demonstrators also face misdemeanor charges after the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office identified their involvement in the protests via video recordings, court documents show.

More than 350 faculty members have signed a petition urging the district attorney to drop the charges and the administration to cover legal fees should the prosecution of the protesters go forward. The petition was recently forwarded by Chancellor Robert Birgeneau to the district attorney’s office.

“The D.A.’s decision represents a significant chilling of free speech and an undue restriction of rights of free assembly on campus, values officially enshrined in UC Berkeley’s Principles of Community,” the petition reads.

Students also felt dissatisfied with the campus administration’s response to the charges brought against students, and a bill denouncing the charges has been introduced to the ASUC Senate.

“The real inconsistency is in policy,” said ASUC Senator Elliot Goldstein, who submitted the bill. “Why would campus administration grant amnesty in the student code of conduct, but at the same time sit silently by when there are criminal charges against these students?”

Yet the focus of the meeting was on mobilizing students and faculty to protest the charges against the eight demonstrators, who are set to be arraigned at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse at different times over the next few weeks. A picket is planned for Thursday to circulate information about the arraignments, and a press conference at the courthouse in Oakland is set for Friday at 11 a.m.