UC Police hit back on protest violence with open letter

The UC Berkeley Police Officers’ Association says it was not their decision to engage campus protesters on November 9th, claim some of their tactics, which have been widely criticized, were responses to violent protesters, and call out the Cal administration for not standing by the police after asking them to enforce its policies.

The UCB Police Officers’ Association, which represents approximately 64 campus police officers — the full complement in the UCPD — made these statements in an open letter released today. Part of the letter, which is addressed to students, faculty and UC Regents, reads:

“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 video referred to in the letter (and shown above) shows UCPD and Alameda County sheriff’s deputies in riot gear hitting a line of protesters with truncheons. The video has had more than 830,000 views since being published on YouTube and has shown up on national TV shows such as The Colbert Report.

Last week, 13 days after the incidents, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau apologized for the police tactics, saying he took full responsibility for the events that day and would do “his very best to ensure that this does not happen again.”

The November 9th campus confrontation prompted 47 Berkeley faculty members to ask for a special meeting to vote on a resolution of no-confidence in Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry Le Grande. The proposal was scaled back over the weekend and its authors are now asking the Academic Senate to oppose “all violent responses to nonviolent protest” and to demand that administrators take concrete steps to ensure “free expression and assembly” on the Cal campus.

The protests were also on the agenda of a UC Board of Regents teleconference held today.

An independent review of the events, ordered by Cal administration, is ongoing.

Read the UCPD Association’s Open Letter in full.

Chancellor Birgeneau apologizes for Occupy Cal police response [11.22.11]
Poet writes about Occupy Cal, protesters plan next steps [11.21.11]
Councilmember’s open letter re. police force on campus [11.12.11]
Police use of force at Occupy Cal gets national attention [11.11.11]
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 

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  • Anonymous

    “Not caught on most videos were scenes of protesters hitting, pushing, grabbing officers’ batons, fighting back with backpacks and skateboards.”

    Are the police arguing that the alleged and undocumented violent actions of other protestors justify the use of disproportionate force against protestors behaving nonviolently? This is nonsense and demonstrates a startling lack of discretion.

    “Our society in 2011 has become an extremely more violent place to live and to protect.”

    Again, nonsense. The rate of violent crime in the U.S. is significantly lower than it was  20 years ago and, while not quite as low as it was in 1963, it is as close to that level as it has been in about 40 years. Even the most violent of times do not justify the use of excessive force against nonviolent protestors.

    “Disgruntled citizens in this day and age express their frustrations in far more violent ways…”

    How many more times do I have to say, nonsense? Again, violence is lower than it has been in the past thirty years and this statement shows remarkable ignorance of history. The 1992 LA Riot, the 1964 Philadelphia Riot, and the 1967 Detroit Riot are all examples of riots astronomically more violent and threatening than anything seen during the Occupy Movement. And what precipitated these riots? Excessive use of force by police.

    “Peaceful protests can, in an instant, turn into violent rioting, ending in destruction of property or worse – the loss of lives.”

    Yes, often as the result of real or perceived police brutality.

    “Please understand that by no means are we interested in making excuses.”

    Except, of course, all the excuses they just made.
    I’ve used washing machines that spin less than the UCPD. File this one under apologies that aren’t really apologies.

    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.

    At least there is one thing on which we can agree.

  • guest

    …Earth to UC Berkeley Police Officers’ Association…

    There are ways to enforce UC policies without resorting to brutalizing
    violence. There are standards that must be followed when responding to
    protests. Just because the protestors refuse to decamp, doesn’t
    automatically mean the police can start brutalizing them. It wasn’t a
    dangerous situation until the police officers made it so. Shame on the
    officers who acted in such despicable ways and shame on the UC Berkeley
    Police Officers’ Association for once again refusing to acknowledge bad
    behavior in their ranks. What a bunch of thugs! As a California taxpayer, I don’t want my
    campus police forces using such tactics and putting the state’s
    taxpayers on the hook for legal settlements when an injured protestor
    rightfully sues the state.

  • I agree with your sentiments, but by no means did you want any part of police treatment 50 years ago if you were in a protest that was asked to disperse and didn’t.  While you and Steven Pinker are correct about rates of violence, etc. let me know if you’d like to take the wager that no outsiders take advantage of the existence of these events to show up with weapons and escalate/create threatening situations/etc.  It’s equally nonsense to claim that police are unjustified to use force to clear an area, as that is what the law dictates.  We may agree or disagree with it, but there is little specificity on what constitutes appropriate force (note that it is not equivalent force; clearing an area that has been told to disperse is very different legally (as I understand it) than a self-defense case).  Again, I think this whole thing was unabashed police thuggery, but let’s not confuse reality with impassioned outrage.

  • Anonymous

    Never did I say that police treatment of protestors is generally worse now than it was 50 years ago, nor did I mean to suggest that there aren’t people who show up at these things with violence in mind. The mask-wearing anarchists are a clear example of this, and their violence should be dealt with by police in a proportional manner. This was the key to what I said: use of excessive or disproportionate force by police is what is unjustified. Never have I suggested that police should abstain from force in every situation. So really, it would seem that there is nothing but agreement between us, especially regarding the use of force in question.

  • Anonymous

    This kind of “but, but, it’s not *our* fault” response further undermines (if that was even possible) my confidence in the UCPD.  UCPD, you’re the ones who are wearing full body armor, a beltful of weapons, and have state sanction to use force.  With that power comes responsibility, and you abused it.

    The letter also says: “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 . . .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?”

    There were no reports of knives or guns at this scene.  What are you talking about?  Furthermore, in this video, Helmet #14 in particular can be seen both initiating vicious baton strikes against non-aggressive students at 0:07, and jabbing what appears to be a defenseless woman repeatedly (at 0:56) in the video in ways that I cannot imagine are within the bounds of appropriate conduct for an officer.  *That’s* how you keep the situation from “escalating”?  He’s not “controlling” anything; he’s just beating a prone 20-year old woman. 

    An appropriate response would be to say “We goofed, we’re learning from our mistakes, putting helmet #14 on admin leave, and we’re working on a better policies for the use of force in protests.”

  • Bruce Love

    In this case, the police were there to enforce an essentially symbolic mandate against encampment.   They hit people because their bosses wanted to create a symbol.   Not to bring about “order” but to create a political symbol.  Encampment could certainly have been made and policed safely at far lower cost.  Encampment per se could have easily been harmless and temporary.   The bad outcome of the police action here was reasonably foreseeable for anyone who could have thought for a minute.  But for the administration, that was not an option.

    The problem the administration faced is that if the encampment had been cooperatively tolerated, at least for a while, this would have bestowed some  additional political legitimacy upon the Occupy movement as a whole, and monied interests who influence the governance and budget of UC generally and Cal specifically would pull reins.   Enforcement against encampment was a fundamentally cynical, anti-intellectual,  and misanthropic choice that the administration made mainly to support the social and economic status of a few administrators who respond mainly to a corrupt elite.

    In announcing its intentions against encampment the university cited policy that dates back to the days of on-campus “shanty town” demonstrations against apartheid in S. Africa and in favor of divestment (the last major time Cal beat up students over tents).    It cited alleged problems found in other occupations, elsewhere.  To justify beating up students it pointed to everything other than what the students were actually doing.  There was no more legitimate reason beyond that — in the admistration’s own words — to enforce against this encampment at this particular time.  It was just an out of date policy and a symbolically sympathetic response by the administration to municipal issues in Oakland, etc.  The administration’s moral and civic bankruptcy in this regard is palpable.

    Had the administration not insisted on thumping its chest that way, the police would not have provoked the confrontation that they did, would not have felt threatened by resistance to their crackdown, and none of this would have happened.  You can sense Birgeneau’s underlying awareness of this irony in his initial (“now we have kent state”) reaction to the on-campus shooting.

    The university administration was playing, rather pathetically, to an audience of elites — trying to demonstrate that while as a liberal institution it encouraged dissent and demonstration, ultimately it was on top, dominating the situation,  keeping things safe for big capital, and turning dissent into nothing more than a fun parlor game.   Such a high priority was made of sending that message to its masters that the university administration demonstrably overlooked student safety and set up the police to run amok regardless of their better natures.

    If I parse the officer’s association correctly, they are now mainly asserting that students used backpacks and skateboards in self-defense against a police-initiated violent attack — and that somehow these acts of self-defense justify what we see on the videos and in the hospital records.   Also, they would please like more money.

    I think they these officers ought to look more carefully at how they are being used.

  • Bruce Love

    Another way to parse this is that political bosses can tell UC police officers any damn story they like about the dangers of modern society — even if the story is complete and utter bullshit — and this is sufficient justification in the officer’s minds to break out their fancy new DHS training and gear and start punching hippies.   

  • Kamajogo

    No.  The video clearly shows police beating the crap out of some students who were not being violent, regardless if some other students off camera were.  This letter does not work for me and it does not change my negative opinion of police behavior at this protest.  At all.  

  • majorwiblit

    awwwwww,,,poor,poor us,,,,years of poor budget planning????

    Grow up,,,be honest
    the video shows,,,cops gone wild!!

  • Anonymous

    What sick bastards.  ACAB!  These cops are violently delusional.

  • Jennifer

    I’m still wondering what response/apology, if any, poet Robert Hass and his wife, and UC English prof Celeste Langan, got for being beaten and brutalized, and if any other protesters received an apology.

  • Anonymous

    The most important paragraph in the letter reads:
    “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

    It is not in a policeman’s job description to finely parse the line between symbolic political speech and camping. That isn’t the lens through which they look out at the world. Their letter expresses their lens — being on the lookout for things that could go terribly wrong. They trusted that their civilian bosses had expressed a legal and appropriate policy to them and then, as far as they were concerned, proceeded to carry out that policy as per their rules of engagement. These rules of engagement were also presumably approved by campus administrators payed the big bucks to balance all the different concerns involved. So either some administrator was on the scene and ordered the attack, or even worse, left the police without anyone on the scene that they could consult with. Either way, the responsibility belongs to the administration and it would completely shameful for the administration to try to push the blame to “rogue officers.”

    I think that the individual officers involved here are not the ones to blame and demonizing them can easily be perceived as elitism on the part of hoity-toity ivory-tower types looking down at blue-collar policemen. The officers are *told* that violence is a larger concern now, and if you were an officer who trusted the system, this would seem to be confirmed by the shipments of millitary-grade equipment and training from the feds that you seem to be getting. The blame here is not on them, amusing as the whole Pike-meme might be.

  • libraterian

    If you don’t disburse when asked to, be prepared to deal with what police in riot gear typically do. Five year olds across the globe know this. You don’t want what you want enough to get your skull cracked, you’re useless to any movement worthy of the name. 

  • Friend

    Police have bully mentality. Final word. Change your image and we might believe you.

  • Berkberk

    The problem with your thesis is that police are human beings too, and so however much we may believe that the police violence was an inappropriate response, if they were violently provoked as they claimed, then the situation is clearly not black and white.  To suggest otherwise is the real nonsense.

  • Matthew Kelleher

    The UCPD letter is a classic example of spin to change an obviously unprofessional attack on non violent protesters.  Well trained officers within professional departments do not behave like this if properly trained and deployed by management.  For the Chief of their Department to say that locking arms is an aggressive act is beyond belief.  Police are partly para military organizations; they do what they are ordered to do.  It starts at the top and is expressed thru the ranks.  Any investigation needs to examine what background/orders these officers were given in their pre deployment briefing.  Assuming the presence of violent protesters, as they state in their letter, does not allow the beating of non violent, lawful protesters.  With the gun and the badge comes increased responsibility not unlimited brutality.  UC and it’s Police Department deserve better leadership and definitely vastly improved crowd control and disbursal training (this is Cal Berkeley: what are they thinking ?  Don’t they expect some kind of civil disobedience to occur ?).   Make necessary changes at the top to prevent this from re occurring.  It’s worth the price of the civil cases to follow at minimum.  Allow the current obviously incompetent leadership to remain and incidents like this will continue to occur.

  • M.

    “COPS GONE WILD!”   Excellent ENTERTAINMENT Possibilities!!!  WOW.  Why didnt I think of this BEFORE!!!

    …any more Student Riots , er… ‘demonstrations’ planned. PLease send schedule…   cant WAIT!!  This – is – GREAT!!!

    To the POLICE: USE of MACE in the BIG CANS is mandatory for best audience/camera effect.  PLEASE do NOT come armed with little “lady’s” purse cans.  I WILL report u for being a whimpy COP!!

  • How is a mandate against tent encampments symbolic, Tom?

    Look at how much of a problem tent encampments have been in other communities across America. Do you really think a tent encampment in the middle of campus wouldn’t get in the way of the UC’s primary goal of education?

  • Oh come on, Mr. Lord. Just because you’re a longhair with a pony tail doesn’t mean the cops are out to get you.

  • Great comment. Spot on.

    I’m so tired of anti-police bigots using episodes this as an excuse to pillory the cops themselves instead of blaming the administrators who sanctioned the police actions.

  • That is a bigoted and ignorant statement.

  • libraterian

    Combine the histrionic commentary here with the tepid crowd control video and it’s clear: Few locals remember the real cost of social change. Blue Meanies, bird shot, tear gas, lost deferments and finally the national guard. Irrevocable life changing decisions were made, heavy prices were paid and real causes were won.

    Given the time commitment alone which the above entails it’s just not ‘on’ for student body 2011. UC’s administration should fire their cops and hire non- confrontational mediation teams to disburse the crowds.  

  • Jesse Townley

    Huh? There is a lot of strong reaction against Chancellor Birgenau and his initial statements of support for the UC Berkeley police actions. Remember, he’s the one who stated that protesters linking arms was not non-violent protest. (That lead to Stephen Colbert requesting tear gas for Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, & the Cowardly Lion skipping down the yellow brick road on his show a couple weeks back)

    I completely agree that the people at the top have ultimate responsibility for what their employees do.

    I disagree that it’s possible to discipline both the police who took brutal actions against non-violent protesters AND the administrators. It’s not an either/or thing.

    “Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains.” (Rousseau)

    Do a background check on fbi/police assassins and serial killers (via my sites); then be less concerned about the run of the mill murderer.
    College campuses across the nation are in fascist/police lockdown under the influence of fbi assassins, as evidenced by gross violations of human, civil, and constitutional rights of our citizens.See my documentations:
    The fbi, military intelligence at CSUN (James Wolf), police, UT chancellor, UT legal counsel all team up to create a fraudulent police report with patently false contents in order to find a way to illegally arrest this fbi whistleblower. See this and related links:
    QUESTIONS! geral sosbee (956)536-0439 One agency of government above all others must be destroyed: the federal burro of investigation (fbi).
    Feinstein is one of the most treacherous traitors in congress:
    BTW: In the early years of the fbi Hoover discovered that his agents were generally not quite capable (for a number of reasons) to deal with the murderers and psychopaths of organized crime in the United States; so, Hoover and his associates set out to correct this inadequacy in a calculated and systematic manner: his agents when deemed appropriate would (by training and mind programming) become themselves homicidal sociopaths. His plan worked so well that in today’s fbi, one cannot always determine which agents (and operatives) are cold blooded murderers and torturers.For example: People who knew H. Paul Rico (ex-fbi agent)”… recall him as a cop who dressed and talked like a gangster. Only much later would it become clear that it was not an act.” Hitman, Howie Carr, Tom Doherty Associates,LLC,175 Fifth Avenue, New York,NY 10010,2011, p.63.
    Also see:
    Re: Insider Trades:
    Human Experimentation:

  • Jesse Townley

    The Oakland Police union’s statement from November 1st was much better (although I don’t agree with all of the sentiments expressed in it). It didn’t attempt to explain anything but stated, much more succinctly, the seemingly paradoxical situation it found itself in.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Administrative leave should just be the first step.  The next step should be an investigation to determine whether Helmet #14 should be prosecuted for criminal battery.

  • I have a hard time buying – “the only reason we beat and pepper sprayed non-violent kids is because we didn’t get enough training”.  The police should not HAVE equipment for which they haven’t received proper training.  The police CLEARLY used too much force, the “some mean kids over there started it” excuse is laughable.  The only question is whether the police used force that was approved by the administration or not. 

  • BambiB

    Just think how easily the crowd could have turned the tables on the cops.  By the looks of things, the protesters outnumbered the abusive police by 5:1 or more.  If they simply surged forward and stomped the cops, there would have been nothing left but police paste.

    At some point, the cops are going to go too far.  And then they will die.

  • Martin449

    Imagine how things would have been different if the cameraman had instead been a sniper intent upon killing the first cop who beat a student.

    Some day, it’s going to happen.  

  • Roiden

    Who hit who first?  that’s my question.  If I’m protest and chanting and being peaceful and a thug comes at me with a club and I have a backpack, skateboard, textbook, or any of the other completely random stuff mentioned in this open letter I would have defended myself too.  These are not violent protesters who wanted a violent confrontation.  If they were, they’d have all had rocks, sticks, and other weapons. They did not. This is obviously kids defending themselves against clubs and armor.  Thugs and bullies is all the UCPD is and this open letter is a complete farce that even a public defendor could see right through.  The only people that day looking for a fight was UCPD and, when they couldn’t find one, they started one.

  • Meliflaw

    (Oops. I meant to click on “Reply,” not “Like”!)

    That’s like saying students have spoiled-brat mentality. Some cops are bullies–while I’ve also met some Berkeley P.D. officers whom I thought very fine, reasonable, and dedicated peace officers.

  • libraterian

    Yo Tracey, “old farts” gets cut because an old fart says it’s ageist, and you leave this up? Ad sales look brisk. Time to bite the bullet and hire a real staff.

  • Anonymous

    If only I could understand what you are saying here, I could respond to it.

  • Libraterian is pointing out that the comment by BambiB is a veiled death threat against the UC Police, and as such a significantly more abusive/dangerous/offensive comment than referring to the elderly as “old farts.”

  • Another veiled death threat against the UC Police left up by the Berkeleyside editors.

    I don’t like to criticize the editing and moderating on this site very much, but this is unacceptable.

  • If the kids wanted a completely peaceful protest, why did they engaged in prohibited activity and then use force to prevent the police from doing their job?

  • libraterian

    Ask Tracey

  • Alan Saldich

    If you’re going to use big-boy words like “disburse”, you should at least know the difference between that and “disperse” which is probably what you meant in this otherwise ignorant comment. 

    Are you implying that if you want something to change you have to want to get your skull cracked? Just because police in riot gear often do act violently does not mean that they should when faced with crowds who don’t… disperse when asked.Or maybe you did mean that crowds should pay the police to avoid having their skulls cracked? Your comment makes me wonder what you mean by “libratarian”? Mis-spelling or intentional?

  • Summeranalogy

    Thank you for pointing out it was not your decision to engage protestors.  It’s not your job to know every law and policy, or to know right from wrong, but to come when called and to defend unarmed citizens from violations of their Constitutionally protected Civil rights.  Whose decision was it to beat protestors?  Where is the evidence that anyone fought back?

  • Summeranalogy

    The chacellor sanctioned the protests, the university allowed capmus wide advertisments, and everyone expected there to be a rally to protest an 81% tuition hike. A few pitched tents on a tiny patch of grass equated the symbolic raising of a free speech flag, a “solidarity” symbol with OWS, and in now way was a large scale public hazard encampment.  This itty bitty school rules infraction was at worst a misdemeanor matter, not a cause for cops to break bones and puncture organs. PLEASE clean house and get rid of your worst actors who don’t belong in public service.  We won’t stand for a new Guantanamo Bay here or elsewhere.

  • Charles_Siegel

    It is ageist, and  I think this second use of it should also be cut.

    Once again, we see what a nasty, hate-filled character libraterian is.  Notice that he cannot even make the comment above without insulting Berkeleyside by saying “Time to bite the bullet and hire a real staff.”

    You have to feel sorry for someone who is so negative, bitter, and angry. 

  • Charles_Siegel

     That is typical of non-violent civil disobedience. 

    For example, protesters sit-in at an office, and they expect to be arrested for trespassing and to be carried away.  They do not expect to be bashed over the head for violating the law against trespassing, just to be arrested.

    Gandhi and Martin Luther King did the same thing. 

  • libraterian

    Again it would come closer to ‘social discourse’ if you could muster an ‘on topic’ original idea of your own, rather than opine on the opinions of others.