The ends don’t always justify the means. Eleven of the 13 protesters arrested for their involvement in the Nov. 9 Occupy Cal demonstration have had their criminal charges dropped in the last two weeks, 10 since this past Wednesday. The remaining two protesters are UC Berkeley professor Celeste Langan, who was told by her attorney that her charges will be dropped, and UC Berkeley graduate student Jasper Bernes, who faces charges including allegedly battering an officer.
We are pleased that these charges were dismissed, as the demonstrators were peacefully protesting. Yet at the same time, we question why these charges were brought in the first place. The police, the judicial system and campus administration all seem to have failed in their duties.
The police did insufficient investigative work and instead arrested 13 of the most recognizable protest leaders — 11 of whom have now had their charges dismissed — some after reviewing video footage of the days events.
The police were lazy. Though it is unclear whether police had ulterior motives in choosing demonstrators they could easily identify, the fact they charged protesters who were not arrested in the course of the day’s events inherently suggests an intention to single them out simply because of their previous involvement in campus protests.
Charging the 11 protesters was unfair, as they had to go through part of the judicial process all for, in the end, nothing. Certainly, the district attorney has a legal obligation to make charges, especially with the evidence from police. But for 11 of the protesters to undergo months of hardship only to have the charges dropped is a waste of time and resources.
As for the UC Berkeley administration’s role, a letter authored by Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer and sent to the Alameda County District Attorney on March 14 was an appreciated gesture. While the letter had positive effects, we are dismayed that campus administration has not been more vocal in support of its students and against the charges from the onset. Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore has said the letter’s content speaks for itself, and said it did not definitively say whether the administrators were specifically endorsing the dismissal of the charges.
On March 23, we criticized the decision to issue stay-away orders to 12 protesters. The dismissal of 11 charges cements that credence. Legal charges are supposed to act as a deterrent for committing further crimes. But for the law to have its intended effect, protesters should have committed a legitimate crime with enough valid evidence for a charge not to be dismissed. In response to future protests, we hope that the police and District Attorney’s office remember the justice system’s intent and only pursue charges when a viable case exists.