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Open Letter from UC Berkeley Police: Occupy Cal Protest Was Not Non-Violent

In response to accusations of police brutality during an Occupy Cal protest on Nov. 9, the UC Berkeley police have released an open letter to the community explaining their actions.

Clashes between police and protesters resulted in dozens of arrests, the beating of a former poet laureate, and that sent shockwaves nationwide.

The aftermath has meant condemnation of police actions by members the public, , and even university officials. A lawsuit has been filed by protesters who say they were victims of police brutality.

But UC Berkeley police claim there are two sides to every story.

In an open letter to the campus community, representatives of the UC Berkeley Police Officer's Association say that the protests on Nov. 9 were not non-violent, but rather involved demonstrators "hitting, pushing, grabbing officers’ batons" and "fighting back with backpacks and skateboards."

The open letter also emphasizes that the UC Berkeley police should not be viewed as the "enemy," since it was not their decision to engage protesters. Police actions were the result of attempting to control the situation so that it would not "escalate into a seriously violent, potentially life-threatening event for all involved". 

The letter adds that police are not trying to "abrogate responsibility" and that they support a full investigation and review of university police policies. 

In closing, UC Berkeley police asked that protesters be respectful, and that the university administration show "leadership" and support its police force. 

An Open Letter to UC Berkeley Students, Faculty, Administration & Regents from the UC Berkeley Police Officers’ Association 

It is our hope that this letter will help open the door to a better understanding between UC Berkeley police and the University community. 

The UC Berkeley Police Officers’ Association, representing approximately 64 campus police officers, understands your frustration over massive tuition hikes and budget cuts, and we fully support your right to peacefully protest to bring about change. 

It was not our decision to engage campus protesters on November 9th. We are now faced with “managing” the results of years of poor budget planning. Please know we are not your enemy. 

A video clip gone viral does not depict the full story or the facts leading up to an actual incident. Multiple dispersal requests were given in the days and hours before the tent removal operation. Not caught on most videos were scenes of protesters hitting, pushing, grabbing officers’ batons, fighting back with backpacks and skateboards. 

The UC Berkeley Police Officers’ Association supports a full investigation of the events that took place on November 9th, as well as a full review of University policing policies. That being said, we do not abrogate responsibility for the events on November 9th. 

UC Berkeley police officers want to better serve students and faculty members and we welcome ideas for how we can have a better discourse to avoid future confrontations. We are open to all suggestions on ways we can improve our ability to better protect and serve the UC Berkeley community. 

As your campus police, we also have safety concerns that we ask you to consider. 

Society has changed significantly since 1964 when peaceful UC Berkeley student protesters organized a 10-hour sit-in in Sproul Hall and 10,000 students held a police car at bay – spawning change and the birth of our nation’s Free Speech Movement. 

However proud we can all be of UC Berkeley’s contribution to free speech in America, no one can deny this: Our society in 2011 has become an extremely more violent place to live and to protect. No one understands the effects of this violence more than those of us in law enforcement. 

Disgruntled citizens in this day and age express their frustrations in far more violent ways – with knives, with guns and sometimes by killing innocent bystanders. Peaceful protests can, in an instant, turn into violent rioting, ending in destruction of property or worse – the loss of lives. Police officers and innocent citizens everywhere are being injured, and in some instances, killed. 

In the back of every police officer’s mind is this: How can I control this incident so it does not escalate into a seriously violent, potentially life-threatening event for all involved? 

While students were calling the protest “non-violent,” the events on November 9th were anything but nonviolent. In previous student Occupy protests, protesters hit police officers with chairs, bricks, spitting, and using homemade plywood shields as weapons – with documented injuries to officers. 

At a moment’s notice, the November 9th protest at UC Berkeley could have turned even more violent than it did, much like the Occupy protests in neighboring Oakland. 

Please understand that by no means are we interested in making excuses. We are only hoping that you will understand and consider the frustrations we experience daily as public safety officers sworn to uphold the law. It is our job to keep protests from escalating into violent events where lives could be endangered. 

We sincerely ask for your help in doing this. 

Like you, we have been victims to budget cuts that affect our children and our families in real ways. We, too, hold on to the dream of being able to afford to send our children and grandchildren to a four-year university. Like you, we understand and fully support the need for change and a redirection of priorities. 

To students and faculty: As 10,000 students surrounded a police car on campus in 1964, protesters passed the hat to help pay for repairs to the police car as a show of respect. Please peacefully respect the rules we are required to enforce – for all our safety and protection. Please respect the requests of our officers as we try to do our jobs. 

To the University Administration and Regents: Please don’t ask us to enforce your policies then refuse to stand by us when we do. Your students, your faculty and your police – we need you to provide real leadership. 

We openly and honestly ask the UC Berkeley community for the opportunity to move forward together, peacefully and without further incident – in better understanding of one another. Thank you for listening. 

What do you think of the open letter from UC Berkeley police? Let us know in the comments.

john November 29, 2011 at 01:47 AM
Yeah for the Berkeley Campus Police!!! The letter is a civilized response. If the altercation had taken place in Las Vegas, for instance, the police would have shot all of the protesters without having to answer for their actions at all. Nice to live in Berkeley!!!
John Doh! November 29, 2011 at 02:37 AM
1. "no one can deny this: Our society in 2011 has become an extremely more violent place to live and to protect." - Actually, that statement is not accurate. See: http://prospect.org/article/violent-crime-increasing 2. "Peaceful protests can, in an instant, turn into violent rioting, ending in destruction of property or worse – the loss of lives." yes, especially when police officers "follow orders" and confront the peaceful protesters. When there is a loss of life, it's usually cops killing people, not the other way around. 3. "How can I control this incident so it does not escalate into a seriously violent, potentially life-threatening event for all involved?" - Easy, refuse to follow the orders that bring confrontation and potential violence. 4. "At a moment’s notice, the November 9th protest at UC Berkeley could have turned even more violent than it did, much like the Occupy protests in neighboring Oakland" - So, the police attacked because of the possibility that violence might occur. I also read that force was used because students were using backpacks to fight back. I suppose they should have just taken the beatings without "fighting back." Next time the administration wants the cops to break up a protest I suggest Blue Flu - catch it! The occupy movement is shining light on the terrible thievery of wealth by the few with support by the government. That's why police are being ordered to attack. It's time to occupy the White House, Congress, & Sacramento.
first_batch_arrested_nov.9th November 29, 2011 at 07:37 AM
I uploaded this never released video as a response to this letter..there are videos of us getting arrested with over 200k views...but never from the inside.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zIGqnLyDSc
Zack Aslanian-Williams November 29, 2011 at 10:28 AM
Law enforcement were murdering civil rights and anti-war activists in the supposedly ever-so peaceful 1960's. More recently, they murdered victims of Hurricane Katrina, they murdered Oscar Grant, and they murdered Kenneth Harding. If you compare notes on the police reaction to protests in Egypt (they react with torture, terror, and murder), and on the role of US police going back to the Haymarket incident, you'll see that police are special bodies of armed men who protect the people who exploit us (including the UC Regents), and in the US, the police play a special role by combining brutality, propaganda, and racism in a relentless war on people of color. This open letter does not at all address the UCPD's targeting of African American students for special beating, harassment, and prosecution. People should become familiar with the recent cases of Eric-Michael Wilson and Robert Slaughter, both black college students targeted by UCPD. This will render dubious any notion that the police as an institution can be "reasonable" from the stand-point of our needs. Even in this letter, the implication seems to be the police want us to corral our activism into spaces where change can't be effected. This reminds me of a statement from a letter co-written by Chancellor Katehi of UC Davis. This letter recommends the re-militirization of universities in Katehi's native Greece, where universities have been police-free zones since the struggles of the 70's.
Zack Aslanian-Williams November 29, 2011 at 10:44 AM
...The letter decries Greek students' "greater-than-reasonable participation in the political process". The UC admin believes that UC students are also pushing the boundaries of reasonable political activity (activity that questions their power, their legitimacy, and their capacity to formulate and express intentions that correspond to our needs). They're unleashing violent and racist police dogs, expecting us to get scared and go home. Nov 9th was not just UCPD, it was sherrifs from Alameda county, a place which is 13% black but has an incarcerated population that is more than 50% black. This is due to racist drug laws and racist enforcement and prosecution practices. These people beat Rob Slaughter, strip searched him, and threw him in Santa Rita after other protesters were cited and released. The judge put $15,000 bail on him, though he'd never before been arrested or lived anywhere outside the Bay Area. He was charged with attacking a "peace officer", for having linked arms in defense of tents, which Birgenau called "not non-violent protest." Incidentally, when a previous case of on-campus racial discrimination by law enforcement was brought to "freedom-rider" Birgenau's attention, he refused to even listen to the case. Anyway, the UNITE HERE hotel worker's union paid Rob's bail-bond. He's out and back in action. Now that we've shown we won't be cowed, UCPD is putting forth this crap, without even an apology. Call for the badges of your brutal brethren, then we'll talk.

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