SF Bay Area Indymedia indymedia
About Contact Subscribe Calendar Publish Print Donate

California | East Bay | Education & Student Activism | Police State and Prisons

Berkeley Protesters - Including Eyewitness Acount
by Jonah
Tuesday Dec 15th, 2009 12:02 PM
One of the protesters still being held with several serious charges and a $130,000 bail is Carwil James, someone who I worked with extensively when I was a student organizer. Carwil is fundamentally opposed to violent protest and his life work is devoted to non-violent change. Call the District Attorney's office at (510) 268-7500 and attend Carwil's arraignment today, meeting at 1:15PM in from of Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse, 661 Washington Street, Oakland. The arraignment is in Dept. 112.
Dear Bay Area Community,

I heard this morning that two protesters from the UC Chancellor's house were released without charges, as no evidence existed connecting them to their charges. Following my message is an account by a UC Professor of his eye witness account of what really occurred on Friday night.

One of the protesters still being held with several serious charges and a $130,000 bail is Carwil James, someone who I worked with extensively when I was a student organizer. Carwil is fundamentally opposed to violent protest and his life work is devoted to non-violent change. It seems more and more clear that those arrested at the Chancellor's house have been used as scapegoats in an attempt to marginalize and silent voices of protest against the terrible cuts occurring throughout California. As someone who is also committed to non-violent change, I was also falsely arrested and pinned with similar charges at an anti-war march prior to the start of the War on Iraq. I know that my charges were dismissed because people from the community spoke out on my behalf by calling the District Attorney from all over the world and demonstrating on my behalf. I also know the extent that the police went to try to manufacture these charges against me, creating an entire police report based upon untruths. The report went as far as stating that I had battered an officer, when in reality an undercover officer began hitting me for no reason at all, when a uniformed officer began hitting him to get off of me thinking he was a random person attacking me, as clearly I hadn't been doing anything to justify such an attack. Carwil is faced with similar charges.

We must keep our movement non-violent as we work change a state that funds prisons more than higher education and where a 2/3 vote is needed to maintain funding for programs and a 2/3 vote is needed to raise taxes on the wealthy. Those who were at the first Wheeler Hall takeover know that even if we are diligent in keeping our movement non-violent that the police will try to provoke violent response and will use violence against non-violent protesters. We must remember the 60 people arrested on Friday morning who were locked in Wheeler Hall by police with no opportunity to escape, after being assured that they would be allowed to maintain their occupation through Friday night, that included study sessions conducted by professors, as students were preparing for finals. We must stand strong to defend any one who is targeted, especially those, such as Carwil who are being used as scapegoats to try to turn us against each-other and to show our movement to be something that it is not.

To speak out for Carwil and the others arrested, both at Wheeler Hall last week after promises they would be allowed to remain through Friday, and at the Chancelor's house call the District Attorney's office at (510) 268-7500 and attend Carwil's arraignment today, meeting at 1:15PM in from of Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse, 661 Washington Street, Oakland. The arraignment is in Dept. 112.

Sincerely,
Jonah Minkoff- Zern

A Message from an Eye Witness UC Professor:
--------------------------
-- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Re: [GSE] finding the right words
From: Daniel Perlstein
Date: Mon, December 14, 2009 11:20 am
To: P. David Pearson
--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear David all the GSE colleagues,

While I genuinely appreciate David's message, I feel, somewhat guiltily, a
need to respond to it. Where I second David’s message is in the belief
that beyond any wider implications, acts of violence necessarily diminish
the university, discouraging the free exchange of ideas, which ought to be
our defining characteristic. Nevertheless questions of proportion and
degree matter. While all acts of violence diminish the university,
differences in how and how much they do so ought to influence our
responses. And these differences were obscured in David’s message.

With many people having little more than news reports of events at the
chancellor's residence on which to base their impressions, I realize that
my comments might seem to indicate a lack of common decency or at least an
incredibly bad sense of timing, but as I will try to explain, I believe
that the university administration not only set the stage for a violent
turn in protests by acts which have repeatedly raised tensions and
undermined belief in its good will, but actually engaged in most of the
violence that has occurred.

I write as someone who has been consistently critical of the Berkeley
administration, but also as someone who has worked for decades against
violence, and finally as perhaps the only person on this list who
witnessed any of Friday night's events. (I was writing letters of
recommendation in my Tolman Hall office, which faces the chancellor's
residence.)

In brief, at about 11 PM a group of protesters --lit by perhaps 10
torches- marched past Tolman and up to the chancellor's residence. They
sounded quite angry. I heard someone call out, "That's the chancellor's
house," and I remember at that time having the impression that it was said
as if people who did not recognize the chancellor's house and were not
focused on going there. The protesters did not, as the Chronicle reports
that police claimed, surround the residence, nor would it have been
possible for so few to do so. I heard, but did not see what must have
been the planters and window(s?) breaking and almost immediately saw the
protesters fleeing. There may have been police chasing them; I did not see
any. I could not tell if the protesters were fleeing because they did not
wish to be caught or because they did not want to participate in what they
now realized was an escalated form of violence. None of the protesters I
saw fleeing (and I believe I saw most of them) were carrying lit torches.
I did not see anyone arrested, but trees block my view of the front of the
chancellor's house, so I do not know if the arrests occurred at the time
or later, and whether because of their individual actions or because of
the actions of the group as a whole.

What I do know is that I witnessed enough at variance with university
officials’ accounts as reported in the press to make me suspicious of the
rest of those accounts, even if I had not already been made suspicious by
distortions and inaccuracies in previous administration statements about
recent protests, which have been amply documented elsewhere.

I believe that acts were committed at the chancellor's house that were not
only counter-productive but also, more important, wrong. And yet those
events were remarkably brief and perhaps spontaneous. Again, I do not
write this to be evasive but rather because even among what we condemn we
need to make judgments, and I believe that sustained, planned violence
demands a different response from that which did not and does not strike
me as sustained and possibly not even as planned. Moreover, it seems to
me that violence by those whose power confers legitimacy on its exercise
requires a stronger response than that by those who lack such power.
There should be a higher standard by which to judge the actions of police
and campus officials than of protesters, many of them –whether students or
not—youthful. (I would also characterize the actions by individual police
outside of Wheeler as brief and perhaps spontaneous. I do not by this
mean to excuse acts of police violence. It seems to me that police have a
professional responsibility to de-escalate a situation, and moreover
spontaneity does not excuse violence.)

The one group so far whose actions –both those that have fostered violence
and those that have constituted in themselves violence-- have been neither
brief nor spontaneous is the university administration. Against all kinds
of advice from a range of campus figures, the university administration
has consistently escalated rather than tried to reach out. The decision
to leave it to police to deal with the Wheeler occupation on Nov. 20, to
close the building, to not meet with protesters, to block faculty from
trying to mediate an end to the protest, and to charge the first arrested
protesters with felonies (with felonies (!) for staging a sit-in in two
Wheeler classrooms), the decision to surround Wheeler Hall with riot
police, all reflected decisions made by administrators who had amply time
to do otherwise. The distorted, unsympathetic statements released by
campus leaders days after the protest again followed deliberation and
caused real trauma to many students, including GSE students who described
a seemingly unbridgeable gap coming to separate them from a university
they had loved. And then Friday morning, directly leading up to the
incident at the chancellor’s residence, the arrest and detention of the
students in Wheeler despite what appears to be police permission to be
there and the failure to give a dispersal order, the decision to detain
students at Santa Rita jail (an act the ACLU is investigating as a
possible violation of student’s constitutional rights), was, by its own
admission, a choice the administration made not in the heat of the moment
but after careful planning. (The Friday morning arrests in Wheeler Hall
ended a week-long protest during which academic activities continued
largely uninterrupted. During the week, students had been told by police
that they would be given the opportunity to disperse before police began
making arrests. Students came and went. Early Friday morning police
entered Wheeler and without warning began arresting sleeping students.
The administration has explained that faculty could not be called in as
mediators because it might have undermined the secrecy of the arrest
operation. Because students had their computers and other study materials
confiscated and then were detained for many hours far from campus, they
were put at risk of academic failure. And so, the campus’s senior
academic leaders now appear to many students dishonest enemies of their
education. This premeditated action by campus leaders that did students
real harm does not excuse any violence at the president’s house, but it
does suggest a need to place violence that might have occurred there in
its context.

If the university curriculum is to include contentious public matters,
peaceful protest is not antithetical to their exchange but a crucial
component of it. And on no campus has the history of protest done more to
extend the range of ideas exchanged in classrooms than Berkeley. It is
thus all the more discouraging that campus officials have so consistently
escalated tensions and repressed protest rather than seeking a dialogue
with protesters. Repudiating the role of campus leaders in violence does
not absolve protesters of responsibility for their actions, but to avoid
challenging the central role of campus leaders precludes any meaningful
dialogue.

Finally, I started this note because I thought that David’s appeal to
invocations of shared campus values rings increasingly hollow. But David,
to his credit, has at least spoken out. It is discouraging how few
faculty have done so. If shared governance is to mean anything beyond its
formal mechanisms, faculty have an obligation to speak up about
administrative violence that inevitably bears our imprimateur.

Dan


Daniel H. Perlstein is an Associate Professor in Policy, Organization, Measurement & Eval; Language & Literacy, Society & Culture