Police use of force at Occupy Cal gets national attention

The manner in which the police handled Occupy Cal protesters on Wednesday night has come under scrutiny and attracted attention beyond the boundaries of Berkeley.

Videos taken on the scene (including one published on Berkeleyside on Wednesday) show UCPD and Alameda County sheriff’s deputies in riot gear hitting a line of protesters with batons after they refused to leave an area outside the campus administration building.

In a piece in the Chronicle today, Jim Chanin, a Berkeley attorney who specializes in police misconduct issues, said: “Using a baton to go through a nonviolent crowd is as inappropriate today as it was in the South when they used it to enforce segregation in the 1960s.”

In the same story, UCPD Captain Margo Bennett defended the action, saying: “The individuals who linked arms and actively resisted, that in itself is an act of violence.”

On his TV show, The Colbert Report, broadcast Thursday night, Stephen Colbert picked up on the incidents on campus and ran a video clip of the police action with accompanying tongue-in-cheek commentary (above).

Also last night on national TV, Cal student and Occupy Cal organizer Marco Amaral appeared on Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Speaking about previous police actions, he said: “They’ve hit us in the past. They’ve crushed ribs, they’ve crushed skulls. But, you know what? The most beautiful thing about — about us protesters, and especially in today’s day and age, is that we maintain by a pledge to be peaceful. And that regardless of what it takes — how long it takes — we will win.”

Across the internet, many observers denounced the police action, calling it brutal and unwarranted. One site, Occupy Wall Street, is compiling a list of the names of the police officers who they believe were responsible for the beatings, based on their analysis of video footage.

In an email sent to the Cal community, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said he regretted police had to use force against the students and that the campus’ Police Review Board would determine whether police used excessive force.

On Thursday evening, the Occupy Cal protesters voted to institute a general strike on Tuesday and called on graduate students and faculty, as well as public service workers, to join them.

Occupy Cal arrests total 40 as protesters plan next moves [11.10.11]
After protests and arrests, calm returns to Cal campus [11.10.11]
Protesters vote to set up Occupy Cal camp at UC Berkeley [11.09.11]
A mom goes to Occupy Oakland with her 7-year-old twins [11.08.11]
Occupy Berkeley consolidates camp, supports Oakland [11.02.11]
About those helicopters: Q&A with KTVU’s news director [10.28.11]
BPD lent support to OPD at Occupy Oakland demonstration [10.26.11]
All quiet at Occupy Berkeley camp at MLK Park [10.26.11]
Berkeley joins 900 cities to condemn corporate greed [10.16.11]

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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  • Charles_Siegel

    The video clearly shows that the police did not only use batons to break through a line of students with their arms linked.  Two police officers also brutally beat a student after he had fallen to the ground, was separated from the other students, and no longer was blocking their way.  This was gratuitous brutality. 

    UC has made the grotesque claim that “The individuals who linked arms and actively resisted, that in itself is an act of violence.”  That is non-violent resistance.  Anyone who claims that it was violent is out of touch with reality.

    Maybe UC will also claim that the student who was separated from the line was committing an ”act of violence” by lying on the ground and being beaten by police.

  • Anonymous

    Apparently Captain Bennett enjoys giving lame excuses just as much as her officers like using their batons.

    The forming of human chains is not a violent act of protest. Protesters in a human chain are not directing physical force towards officers, nor are they causing the officers harm. A favor which the police were disinclined to return, it would seem.

    However one may feel about the efficacy of the occupy movement, such doubts are far overshadowed by the stunning incompetence of our police forces and elected officials in the face of relatively unremarkable protests. So much for learning from the past.

  • Squabbling about the definition of violence really misses the point. Even if Captain Bennett has managed to find a definition of violence that includes linking arms (perhaps it was in Professor John Yoo’s legal dictionary), it’s hard to see how anybody was put at risk by the behavior. All we have are the risk of “the hygiene, safety, space, and conflict issues that emerge when an encampment takes hold and the more intransigent individuals gain control.” It will be interesting to see the administration explain how that kind of nebulous risk should justify the violent (and clearly dangerous) action taken by the police. How much does taking the tents away really lessen those risks, anyway?

  • FuriousProfessor

    The aggressive assault by the Berkeley Campus Police on unarmed non-violent protestors is criminal behavior.  It MUST be answered by a full investigation.  The University Administration should be demanding an investigation by the DA resulting in charges being filed against a number of officers.   Furthermore the Administration must demand the immediate suspension and the beginnings of firing procedures against the officers involved.  If the beating were ordered by a superior, they should also be fired.  The faculty should refuse to teach classes until all of the violent thugs on the Campus Police force are fired and awaiting prosecution.

  • I agree with most of what you say, Professor, but in the video shown here on Berkeleyside, the baton-wielding thugs posing as police were wearing helmets that identified them as Alameda County thug-cops, not Campus Police, so your call that all faculty refuse to teach until the Campus Police purge violent thugs is not possiblem to implement. Campus Police does not have the authority to purge Alameda County cops, although, one would hope, UC could avoid using Alameda County thugs in the future.

  • Bermudez_gaby2011

    This guy is ridiculous. I hate how because you are a student of UC Berkeley it is as if anything you protest automatically loses credibility and is simply labeled as an act by students from “hippie haven” and “slow food locovore pertuly superfund granola dumpsite.”

  • Anonymous

    Colbert is actually being sarcastic in using dismissive ironic humor. I really don’t think he actually means that.  The overall flavor of his piece makes clear that he supports the students.  The language was used to mock the right-wingers that use that language to insult our citizens.

  • David

    Clearly, you’ve never watched Colbert before.

  • EBGuy

    Looks like the top 10% versus OWS. Based on information from Alameda

    ( see http://www.sfgate.com/webdb/acpay/ ), there are over 80 sheriffs
    that earn more than $100k (including overtime).

    Combine this with the reddit link:Here
    are a list of Police Officer names that beat US Berkeley students

    Chavez, G. $155k

    Buschhueter, F. $140k

    Miller, S. $147k

    Medeiros, C. $124k

    Rodrigues, T. $146k

    Williams, T. $146k

    With numbers like that, we’re talking about the top 5%.  Note: from what
    I can tell UC officer pay is, most likely, lower.

  • Salary Unknown

    Glad I work for a private company where my salary is my business.

  • Anonymous

    What those cops did was blatant assault, badge or no badge.

  • GPO

    The real point being not what the brutalizing, macho Sheriffs earn personally, but the fact that if education and social programs were made more of a funding priority, then police/prisons/courts/military would need to be scaled back.   It’s a zero sum game.  The total pie is limited.

  • A reader

    “Chief” Margot Bennett: I don’t say these sorts of things often, but just in case you’re reading this, I’d like to say that you’re an utter idiot. Linking arms is violent now? Linking arms? Are you serious? Please resign immediately — you’ve shown, as a police officer, no less, that you have absolutely no idea what constitutes a violent act, and hence, what constitutes the appropriate response to such an act. That is one of the most fundamental decisions a police officer has to make every day on the job — gauging just what’s violent and what’s not, and responding appropriately. Based on that comment alone — not to mention what happened on Wednesday — you’re clearly not cut out for the job.
    …meanwhile, in Oakland, two citizens were arrested for brutally walking arm-in-arm. Witnesses described the crime as unusually violent. “The last time I saw such a serious assault was during ‘Hands across America,’ that nationwide riot in which millions linked hands for 15 minutes,” said one witness.”Every minute, ten people become victims of the serious crime of armlinking. These horrible assaults happen everywhere, among people of all ages and backgrounds,” said a spokesperson for the group Police Officers Against Linked Arms. “Many officers’ lives have been endangered by linked arms in the line of duty, and we urge Congress to make arm linking a felony.”
    One woman, speaking on condition of anonominity, said she was forced to go into hiding when she learned at her wedding that her new husband and even her father were vicious arm linkers. “My own father slid his arm through mine until are elbows were locked,” she sobbed. “It was supposed to be a beautiful stroll down the aisle, but it became an act of terror I will never forget.”
    Several students at Berkeley High School were expelled after they disrupted Prom by linking arms. “We have a zero tolerance policy for this,” said the principal, who praised the Alameda officers for saving lives by shooting the worst offender, a senior who had linked each arm with someone else.
    Arm linking has forced many police departments to beef up their weaponry. Police have spent an estimated $5 million to pursue and prosecute arm linkers. Congress is recommending those caught arm linking be housed indefinitely at Guantanamo, viewing them as too dangerous to be tried in ordinary courts.Although no one has ever been injured due to arm linking itself, the threat of this violent act masquerading as benign affection leaves officers no choice but to use lethal force if necessary to break up these depraved arm linking gangs, according to the Alameda sheriff.(h/t to CatM at DK — taken from http://www.dailykos.com/comments/1035520/43914273#c30)

  • South Berkeleyan

    I totally agree that the response seems excessive. I guess what I’m wondering is, what’s the “correct” way to handle a line of people locking arms? Say, if they’re blocking an abortion clinic or something people have the right to access. I can’t imagine that it’s always police brutality to forcibly break up a nonviolent human chain.

  • joshua a

    Good question. You prompted me to do some internet searching.
    Nor surprisingly, there is lots written about it. What I see is, basically, avoid mass arrest if you can. Make mass arrests if you must. If that does not work, move on to force.  This link http://www.policeforum.org/library/critical-issues-in-policing-series/MassDemonstrations.pdf http://lib.post.ca.gov/Publications/CrowdMgtGuidelines.pdfsome nice information about how police can talk crowds down and avoid confrontation if it is not needed. It also talks about how police can split up large groups into smaller groups so they are easier to control. Here is a clip…”Mass arrests are generally advisable only when all alternative tactics have either been triedunsuccessfully or are unlikely to be effective under specific circumstances…Training must recognize the difference between two arrest scenarios: Arrest tactics where police are in control ofthe environment and have time to plan and implement the arrests or dispersal in a controlled manner, (e.g., at a sit-down protest); and Arrest tactics where police do not control the environment (e.g., when police are trying to re-establish control of the environment by arresting violent demonstrators).Pressure point techniques, in conjunction with empty hand control, efficient handcuffing, and arrestee escort methods should be included to remove protesters humanely while minimizing risk of injury to protestors and police…”

  • Embarrassed

    If linking arms is an act of violence, then I suppose resisting an unwanted sexual advance might be too. ‘Your Honor,  it wasn’t rape!  I was simply responding to my accuser violently attempting to remain clothed…’ 

    The problem is, I think cops actually perceive it this way , and believe a refusal of their authority to be a violent assault on them. They just have no emotional maturity.

    I feel embarrassed for anyone who would attempt to pervert the language in that way.  What a world.

  • That video was hysterical. It played on all of the stereotypes of Berkeley while also saying that authorities probably stepped over the line. That was a team of comedy writers finding a groove and going for it…batons with condoms…patchouli superfund cleanup site…comedic genius!

  • BreakingBad

    She’s in the directory, give her a call and tell her yourself.


  • Gabriel Fair

    “In a piece in the Chronicle today,
    Jim Chanin, a Berkeley attorney who specializes in police misconduct
    issues, said: ”Using a baton to go through a nonviolent crowd is as
    inappropriate today as it was in the South when they used it to enforce
    segregation in the 1960s.”

  • Gabriel Fair

    I love that sentence

  • How do you think the Police should have handled the situation? The students were clearly told that they could protest all they wanted, but that erecting tents and forming an encampment would not be tolerated. How do you think the Police should have gone about getting to the tents to remove them, with a wall of protesters in the way?

    Let’s not kid ourselves. Getting a reaction out of the Police was one of the goals of the protesters. This is straight out of Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals; provoke a confrontation, make
    yourself look like the victim, blame the person that you provoked.

    I’ll be interested to see how the Police handle the situation when the protesters try to repeat the confrontation next Tuesday. I think they ought to lay off the batons and focus more on pulling people out of the human chain one by one and cuffing them as a way to break through the human chain. Or just wait until the protest dies down after it gets dark and cold, and remove the tents at night.

  • Bluedotdown

    Water cannons! Wash the scum away!

  • Gabriel Fair

    @The_Sharkey:disqus  Clearly the police were using excessive force. I think the police should not have escalated this. So what if they erected some tents. Should we say anyone sleeping in a public space should be dealt with authoritarian force?
    Is that the purpose of the police, to deal with every protest by beating them into submission?

  • Heather W.

    Bluedotdown, -100 points for that comment. 

  • Anonymous

    I think there are ways to break up a crowd like that without trying to break ribs. I mean, what ever happened to just tasing a bro or blinding them with pepper spray? But seriously there was nothing going on in that scene that you can call a justifiable provocation for the police to suddenly start slamming the ends of their nightsticks into people left & right.

    Where was the actual threat to public safety or to the officers on the front line? It wasn’t exactly a rioting mob of motlov-cocktail-throwing radicals there. All I see is a bunch of college kids being slightly annoying in their refusal to disperse.

  • Anonymous

    You also seem to have missed at least part of what I originally said, Sharkey. “Even to the extent protesters were resisting police orders, the brutal actions by the police were utterly unjustified,” and I stand by that. Based on what you’re staying, Sharkey, Montgomery police would have been justified in beating Rosa Parks when she refused to move from her seat on the bus. After all, she was breaking the laws that were in force at the time, and was refusing police orders. She was also very clearly trying to provoke a confrontation. Whether the laws or commands being resisted are just is immaterial to how the police should handle those who are resisting.

    I am hard to pressed to imagine a situation where non-violent resistance would justify such an excessive use of force by police. Whether the protestors and the encampment they were protecting should have been forcibly removed is a separate question from whether the force police used was excessive. On the first question, I am torn. On the second, I think it’s very clear that the level of force was unjustified, which reflects very poorly on both the officers who carried it out and the superiors who made excuses for them.

    As far as your final suggestion, I am generally in agreement. I think that they should let the protests run their course, and let them fizzle as the temperature and the level of enthusiasm drop. If the University and the police feel it is absolutely necessary to dismantle the encampments by force, they should remove people one by one from the human chains. If that proves impractical, too bad, the University will have to live with it for a bit.

    Public health and safety have so far been the excuses for dismantling the Occupy camps. I find this funny since both Oakland and Berkeley seem perfectly willing to tolerate unhealthy and unsafe conditions at homeless encampments such as People’s Park, and in economically underprivileged areas, such as West Oakland. (Imagine if Mayor Quan and OPD had left Occupy Oakland alone and spent $1 million on beat policing.) But if health and safety truly and sincerely are their reasons, they probably shouldn’t engage in police tactics that endanger public health and safety more than the encampments themselves ever did.

  • Charles_Siegel

    It is not just UCPD Captain Bennett.  Chancellor Birgeneau and a couple of other UC officials also issued a statement saying:

    “It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to
    obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the
    police from gaining access to the tents. This is not non-violent civil

    It seems to me that these UC officials should be removed from their positions – not because they condone brutality but because they are ignorant of the English language.  Anyone who does not know the meaning of the word “violent” is obviously too ignorant to qualify as an educator.

    I also agree with the commenter who said that Captain Bennett should be removed from her position for saying: ”The individuals who linked arms and actively resisted, that in
    itself is an act of violence.”  An important element of police work is judging which acts are violent and reacting accordingly, and Captain Bennett is obviously not capable of making that judgment. 

    For the benefit of Birgeneau and the other willfully ignorant members of the university administration, here is a dictionary definition:


    1. acting with or characterized by uncontrolled, strong,
    rough force: a violent earthquake.

    2. caused by injurious or destructive force: a violent

    3. intense in force, effect, etc.; severe; extreme: violent
    pain; violent cold.

    4. roughly or immoderately vehement or ardent: violent

    5. furious in impetuosity, energy, etc.: violent haste.

    None of those definitions covers linking arms to block someone’s way. 
    Several of those definitions do describe the actions of the police.

  • So what if they erected some tents is that they were explicitly told not to, and that setting up any tents or encampments on campus was forbidden. Instead of giving me rhetorical questions, would you mind answering some of the questions I asked?

    How do you think the Police should have handled the situation? The
    students were clearly told that they could protest all they wanted, but
    that erecting tents and forming an encampment would not be tolerated.
    How do you think the Police should have gone about getting to the tents
    to remove them, with a wall of protesters in the way?

  • Saying “oh they could have done something else” doesn’t really answer my question.

    How do you think the Police should have handled the situation? The
    students were clearly told that they could protest all they wanted, but
    that erecting tents and forming an encampment would not be tolerated.
    How do you think the Police should have gone about getting to the tents
    to remove them, with a wall of protesters in the way? Are you saying you think the Police should have pepper sprayed the protesters?

  • The problem is, I think cops… just have no emotional maturity.

    I’ll take What is an example of gross bigotry? for $800, Alex.

  • Oh puh-leeeeease!

    You’re normally an on-the-ball guy, Eric. What’s with the ridiculous “Oh you’d want to see the Police beat up Rosa Parks!!!” garbage? The students and the Police behaved like morons. Just like the protesters and the Police have been behaving like morons in Oakland.

    In both cases the protesters went out of their way to try to provoke the Police, and in both cases the Police went overboard in their response. I think it’s important to acknowledge that both sides actively did things that escalated the situation.

  • I had the same question, and it’s almost impossible to get a straight answer out of anyone. You would think that people who were really mad about the use of excessive force would have a ready answer about what the Police should have done. (Other than ignore the tents & allow the protesters to engage in any prohibited activity that they felt like.)

  • Anonymous

    You may not agree with protestors aims or tactics, but that doesn’t necessarily make them morons, Sharkey. You seem to be burdened by the notion that anyone who doesn’t agree with you is somehow unintelligent, or at least acting as such. This is further evidenced by your response to my comparison with a past act of civil disobedience, which at the time was no doubt regarded by some as “moronic.” Again, you don’t have to agree with the aims or tactics or protestors to believe that police should not respond with excessive force.

    The police are there to protect and to serve, and even in the face of truly provocative morons, we should be able to hold them to a higher standard of conduct than was exhibited last week. When police break up a bar fight, we don’t expect them to do it by way joining it, or by pistol-whipping those involved. Likewise, we should not be complacent as police respond to resistant, yet non-violent protestors by gleefully bludgeoning them.

    I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this one, Sharkey.

  • We don’t even disagree on the issue, Eric. In asking how other people think the issue should have been handled I’m not saying that the level of force used was justified. But folks are so quick to attack anyone who doesn’t automatically parrot the cries of POLICE BRUTALITY!!! that they can’t seem to respond without asinine hyperbole like the Rosa Parks nonsense. I think what the protesters are doing is futile, but I don’t disagree with their goals.

    And stop being so damn naive. Of course we expect the Police to occasionally have to pistol whip someone when they break up a bar fight. Do you think drunk, violent brawlers immediately sit down and behave when asked to by the Police? And do you know for a fact that the majority of the Police were “gleeful” when they struck the protesters? Did you do a survey you can share with us, where you questioned the officers about their emotional state during the incident? It’s funny how you take umbrage at anyone suggesting that the protesters behaved like idiots, but you seem to have no problem making bigoted and hateful assumptions about the Police.

  • Are you suggesting, Salary Unknown, that the salaries paid for with public tax dollars to public employees should not be made public?  And your comment seems to ignore the salient reason that EBGuy, I believe, provided these salary figures:  these guys are getting paid very very good incomes to behave like good professionals but they behaved, instead, like criminals. It is criminal to take out a billy club and beat someone, even if you are a cop. And EBGuy’s real point is that these guys are paid premium incomes because, under a clearly invalid presumption, they are top cops, premium servants of the common good. These are very good wages. What is this area’s median income? All of these quoted salaries are double the median:  highly, highly paid men who are paid these figures supposedly because they deserve it.

    If any of these criminal cops resent having their salary made public, let them go to work for a private company and try to get paid as well — and let’s not forget their very generous benefits packages. Most of these thugs will retire with pensions far above the average citizen’s wages. It is public business to know public dollars are spent on police who act like criminals.

    Thanks EBGuy for this income data. Your helpful, public, information makes it even harder to choke down the criminal behavior of these overpaid thugs.

  • Anon

    “It is criminal to take out a billy club and beat someone, even if you are a cop.”

    No. It is not.

  • Or the State could get rid of the ridiculous pensions and benefits that State workers make, which are ballooning out of control. Unfortunately the folks in power in Sacramento are too gutless to actually stand up to the Public Employee unions and would rather fight to find new ways to increase our State’s regressive sales taxes.

  • EBGuy

    I think the point is not so much funding priorities as public safety salary, benefit and pension costs are bleeding us dry.   They are a black hole that slowly absorbs all public funds until there is no money left for other services.  Local author Michael Lewis has an ‘in defense of Meredith Whitney’ article in Vanity Fair.  Scary stuff.

  • Gudari

    Read the 2nd amendment of the US Constitution!!!!!
    The cops behaved EXACTLY as they did in the 50s-60s in the South during the Civil Rights movement. Pity you are so young that already forgot it.
    Get in the web and check some of the films from the era.
    Then let’s see what do you think about the actions of the ones that sowre to “protect and serve the community”.

  • Gudari

    Sieg Heil!!!

  • Gudari

    What about the right to FREE education. What about the six figures salaries plus exorbitant retirement/benefit packages for the Chancellor and Co.?
    while students end up paying (free?) for them

  • Charles_Siegel

    Sharkey: Note that there were two levels of excessive force:

    — beating a student who had been separated from the line and fallen down, pulling a woman by her hair, and other brutality that clearly was not necessary to break through the line and remove the tents. I have been focusing on this, which was clearly criminal.

    — pushing through the line with batons.  I think JoshuaA has a good answer about this one immediately above.

    You have been defending the second and ignoring the first.  Do you agree with me that the police officers who continued to beat a man who was down and who sent him to the hospital should be prosecuted for criminal battery?

  • Shahid Buttar

    As it turns out, the reason the City of Berkeley police were not involved in this incident (sparing the city the costs of both overtime deployment and inevitable litigation) is because Councilman Arreguin, backed up by a broad civil rights coalition, blocked the mutual aid agreement a few weeks before — after the Berkeley PD was caught participating in the October 25 crackdown at Occupy Oakland. 

  • Gabriel Fair

    African Americans sitting in the front of the bus were explicitly told not to. And not giving up one’s sit to a white person was forbidden. How do you think the Police should have handled the situation?