Occupy Cal: Taking It to the Streets

It’s really no surprise that, yet again, the University of California, Berkeley (Cal) is at the heart of some political controversy. This time is different though. Instead of this ruckus being about students protesting budget cuts, carbon emissions or how many types of granola are available at the cafeteria, it was actually the Cal police who were at the center of this uproar.

For those of you who don’t know, the Cal police took Berkeley’s strong history of activism to heart and decided to revolutionize the way to handle a peaceful protest. Instead of ensuring the safety of protestors, and other students alike, the good men and women in uniform decided it would be better to “gently nudge” protestors with their batons.

Actually, let me rephrase that. The police decided to repeatedly beat and stab demonstrators in their ribs, sending some students and professors to the hospital. Bravo, Cal police. Bravo. There’s nothing better than brutalizing students for lawful and peaceful assembly.

There’s been a growing tension in the last few weeks among the Occupy movement. It started with the Wall Street campers being asked to leave the park for a day so that the city could clean. Things heated up when Iraq veteran Scott Olsen got shot in the head by a tear gas canister during an Occupy Oakland protest. Police have been using tear gas and brute force more and more often the last few weeks. There have been at least two deaths related to the Occupy movement. Berkeley was just the most recent in an ever escalating turn towards violence in a self-proclaimed peaceful movement.

The Occupy protest at UC Irvine was, thankfully, not as full of bloodshed. In fact, we might be the only UC to date that hasn’t had arrests made during an Occupy protest. Even UCLA had a few arrests during their Occupy Westwood, or Occupy We’re Just a Cal-Extension Campus or whatever it is they call it.  The UC Regents noticed though. Whether it was the Berkeley beating or not, they decided to postpone their bi-monthly meeting to November 28 at UC San Francisco, UCLA, UC Davis and UC Merced by teleconference. They cited a “security threat.” Apparently, they were scared of students molotov cocktailing their building, or someone sneaking Guy Fawkes masks into their briefcases.

To be honest, it seems like the only threat to anyone’s safety is from the police. To date, I haven’t seen any protestors cause any sort of violence. No activist in this movement has tear-gassed a friend. Or maced a child. Or shot a gas canister at the head of a war veteran. Or broke the ribs of a student who was just standing there. Or pulled Professor Celeste Langan to the ground, by her hair, before beating her with batons after she offered her wrists in surrender, saying, “Arrest me, arrest me.” No. The police have been the only threat to everyone’s well-being.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not the biggest fan of the Occupy movement. While I do think there is something to be said of a large group of people equally dissatisfied with our economy, I don’t think that continuing to not work, mixing issues like corporate personhood and animal cruelty in your official list of demands, and having a leaderless (which is just a nice way of saying “unorganized”) movement is the way to make a change. I could talk for a long time about my experience at the Occupy protests and with the movement and what I think, but that’s neither here nor there. The bottom line is the way that the Berkeley protests were handled is pathetic.

The faculty at Berkeley agree. They have drafted a letter, penned by three professors, to the Cal administration condemning the tactics used by police. This came right after the beatings, and right before police pulled their guns and shot a student inside Haas School of Business. The teachers submitted their letter with over 500 signatures (so far). Good for them. It’s a sad day when students that are peacefully protesting are met by a disgustingly brutal, unwarranted police response.

Justin Huft is a third-year psychology and social behavior major. He can be reached at jhuft@uci.edu.