By its very nature, experiencing the due process of law is not a punishment. While the Occupy Cal protesters being charged with crimes for their actions on Nov. 9 surely endured grave wrongs under police baton, they should not be exempt from their day in court. However, when the mechanisms of justice themselves are faced with extraordinary situations, the system’s impartiality is called into question. UC Berkeley must therefore work harder to prove its procedures are grounded in the same fair ideals as the law.
The charges being leveled against 13 Nov. 9 protesters would not have been filed unless the Alameda County district attorney had sufficient evidence to prosecute. That UC Berkeley’s Police Review Board and UCPD’s own review process show no sign of substantive development, though, reveals an inexcusable mismatch with the pace of our legal system. Protesters could receive punishment for the misdemeanors they allegedly committed long before UCPD reconciles what it did wrong — there are few better examples of injustice.
Yes, the criminal justice system is backed by a vast resource pool dedicated to upholding the law while UC Berkeley must assign individuals to do double duty when reviewing protests on campus. But more than four months have passed since the November demonstration at Sproul Hall, and deadlines for progress are being neither met nor reset. The same difficulties and delays occurred in the campus’s last major review of police actions at a protest. Today, there is no excuse for why UC Berkeley cannot hold UCPD accountable with the same timely rigor that protesters are currently facing in court.
In failing to expediently and transparently advance its protest review processes, the campus only allows distrust to grow. Concern has mounted that UCPD could have identified protesters for prosecution via information the Tang Center was required by law to provide after treating the protesters’ injuries. This is an understandable consequence of how the campus managed Nov. 9’s aftermath. While people should be able to trust the police department’s claim that it did not use the information improperly, they should not be expected to. Campus administrators need to, as the ACLU of Northern California suggested, take steps to assure future victims are not dissuaded from seeking medical attention at the Tang Center.
UC Berkeley must use the opportunity these concerns raise to improve upon how it responds to protests, both as they occur and after they end.