About 200 students and community members attended a rally and lie-down protest held by the Black Student Union, or BSU, on Wednesday afternoon on Sproul Plaza in response to the arrests of two Black students by UCPD on March 8.
The two students — one of whom attends UC Berkeley, while the other attends the University of San Francisco, or USF — were stopped by UCPD Officer Gabriel Irving and Sgt. Cris Olivet on the evening of March 8 in response to what campus administration said in a statement was a “report regarding two individuals, one of whom was described as visibly carrying a powerful stun device.”
In a press release, BSU alleged that UCPD used “excessive force” while arresting the two students after the USF student told officers that she was carrying a Taser. BSU also alleged in the press release that the UC Berkeley student was pinned to the ground. Both students were allegedly arrested without being read their rights — the UC Berkeley student was only read her rights upon request during interrogation, BSU further alleged in the press release.
“Black folks are 1.9 percent of this campus, so it’s very easy to silence a collective Black voice, particularly when it … decides to punctuate itself against violence,” said BSU Vice President Leonard Irving-Thomas.
The campus statement said the arrested students were referred to a “diversion program” rather than prosecuted. No charges will be filed against the students, said campus spokesperson Roqua Montez in an email.
“UC Berkeley’s administration and UCPD place great importance on a campus that is safe and welcoming for all,” the campus said in its statement. “It is a matter of concern that this recent activity unfolded during a time of heightened tension and suspicion between members of communities of color and law enforcement.”
Irving-Thomas said he was skeptical that Irving and Olivet would face repercussions for the alleged use of excessive force, adding that he was disappointed with the campus’s response to BSU’s allegations.
“They (have) yet to reach out in a way that’s in any way healing, comforting or actually bringing effort for the Black community,” Irving-Thomas said. “It’s very much to save face.”
People who attended the rally chanted, “No justice, no peace, no racist police” and “Two, four, six, eight, stop the violence, stop the hate” in front of Golden Bear Café. Attendees could also be seen carrying signs that read, “Are Black bodies safe here?” About 1 p.m., attendees began chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, UCPD’s got to go,” while facing Sproul Hall where the UCPD office is located. Toward the end of the rally, students and community members lay down on the ground for several minutes to protest police violence.
Irving-Thomas described the rally as a “centering … event” against police violence directed at Black students.
“Right now is a time … that has a lot of radical potential,” Irving-Thomas said. “(We want to) recognize our privileges as UC students and join the fight and bridge the gaps between urban communities like Sacramento, Richmond and Oakland and make sure that we unify together and use the privilege that we have here from folks in the university.”