Last Wednesday, Nov. 9 , after a peaceful march to Bank of America and a noontime rally on Sproul Plaza, UC Berkeley protesters voted to set up an encampment in front of Sproul Hall, the UC Berkeley administrative building, to begin the Occupy Cal movement. After ignoring a dispersal order by the campus police department, the peacefully-organized protesters were immediately confronted by police using brutal violence, resulting in the arrest of seven individuals. Such an aggressive response by police toward non-violent protesters is extremely deplorable and not justified under any circumstances.
Widely circulated videos and photographs depict the police striking students with batons and using excessive force in making arrests. It is abundantly evident that the severe tactics used were completely unwarranted by the nature of the non-violent protest. While those participating, by ignoring the order to disperse, were all legally subject to arrest, it is expected that the police make the arrests in a non-violent manner. Instead, educated individuals passionate about drawing awareness to the troubles facing higher education were confronted with unprovoked brutality by the very group of people charged with the task of protecting them.
UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau said that police were “forced to use their batons” to enforce a UC Berkeley policy that states that the encampment presented “safety, space and conflict issues.” Campus Police Chief Margo Bennett further justified the use of violence, saying “linking arms in a human chain when ordered to step aside is not a nonviolent protest.”
Through these comments, police and administration are blurring the line between what constitutes as violence in an attempt to frame the situation in a manner that casts blame on the protesters.
Under no circumstances do non-violent actions warrant a violent response. Furthermore, even if the ambiguous definition of violent protest is accepted, police are still seen in videos brutally responding to protesters who were neither linking arms nor refusing arrest.
The purpose of the Occupy Cal movement is not to generate tension between police and protesters, but rather to draw attention to the state’s decreased investment in higher education. We stand in solidarity with the students of UC Berkeley who should continue to exercise their right of expression to question the current course of the public university system.
We call out to UC Davis students to voice their own opinions about the pressing issues facing our university, state and country.
Editor’s note: The first paragraph of this editorial has been updated to more accurately reflect the views of the Editorial Board. The print edition inaccurately states that nine protesters were responsible for the vote to camp at Sproul Hall. The Aggie regrets this error.