Administrators send letter to district attorney regarding Occupy Cal charges

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UC Berkeley administrators sent a letter to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office Wednesday to draw attention to a campus faculty petition asking that criminal charges against Nov. 9 Occupy Cal protesters be dropped.

In the letter, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer link to the online petition but do not take a definitive position on whether they would like the charges dropped.

However, Birgeneau and Breslauer reminded District Attorney Nancy O’Malley that the campus did not pursue student conduct proceedings for students who were charged with misdemeanors for their actions on Nov. 9.

“We urge you to be sensitive to the context of the campus environment and to the strong feelings this has raised on campus, as reflected in the petition,” the letter states.

The petition — drawn up by the UC Berkeley Faculty Association and signed by more than 360 people as of Thursday afternoon — calls upon Birgeneau to ask O’Malley to drop the charges.

According to Richard Walker, vice chair of the association, faculty members presented the petition to Birgeneau on Monday night in the hope that he would make a public statement against the criminal charges.

“I’m glad (administrators) did it, but it could be stronger,” he said in an email. “Still, it’s an public appeal, which is great.”

Several protesters — including associate English professor Celeste Langan — will be arraigned at Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in Oakland beginning Friday at 9 a.m. Members of Occupy Cal and activist group BAMN are planning a press conference in front of the courthouse around 8:30 a.m., BAMN attorney Ronald Cruz said.

Protesters will hold a “silent, respectful demonstration of support and outrage” in front of the courthouse, according to the event’s Facebook page.

Cruz said the campus administration can end the prosecution against the protesters who have been charged by directly asking for the district attorney to drop the charges or by having UCPD withdraw the charges.

“It’s clearly a political witch hunt,” Cruz said. “Several people being charged were not even arrested. All of them were (Occupy) movement leaders, and all of them were brutalized.”

National BAMN organizer Yvette Felarca — who was not arrested but was charged with obstructing an officer and obstructing a thoroughfare — said Birgeneau’s recent announcement that he will step down by the end of December is a victory for the Occupy Cal movement and that he needs to make sure the charges are dropped before his tenure is over.

“I didn’t think much of (the letter) because he didn’t do what he should do,” Felarca said. “Birgeneau needs to make sure all of (the charges) are dropped against every one of us who was charged. They’re not going to stop us in fighting for what is right, which is public education.”

Christopher Yee covers Berkeley communities.