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Open Letter to Chancellor Birgeneau on the Events of Friday, November 20

by UCB Spanish & Portuguese Grad Students
Letter from the undersigned graduate students in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese in direct response to Chancellor Birgeneau's official statements regarding the events of Friday, November 20 at UC Berkeley.
Dear Chancellor Birgeneau:

As graduate students in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and members of the university community, we are writing this letter to express our shock and outrage at the way you and your administration have responded to last week’s protests on UC Berkeley campus. Your official statement from Friday, November 20 (available here) demonstrates a startling disconnect with the reality on the ground.

You assert that it was the presence of "large crowds" that "necessitated significant police presence to maintain safety." But the thousands of students who gathered at Wheeler Hall were practicing nonviolence; our only weapons were our words, our chants: "We’re nonviolent, how about you!" to announce our intentions, and "Shame on you!" when these intentions were brutally ignored. The police, of course, were heavily armed with batons, pepper guns, and tear gas; they even brought out some helicopters for support. Police from four separate jurisdictions were called in: not just UCPD, but the Berkeley Police Department, Oakland Police Department, and Alameda County Sheriffs as well. What possible role could hundreds of police in full riot gear contribute to maintaining our safety?

In fact, their only role was to escalate the standoff. They were the ones guilty of exercising violence. Some of us personally received repeated blows from police batons; all of us witnessed this same violence being used against our colleagues and friends. One graduate student had her hand literally smashed by a police baton, and was rushed to the hospital for reconstructive surgery. (She later returned, bandaged, to the barricades.) Another student, this one an undergraduate, was shot in the stomach with a rubber bullet. "[T]he officers who managed the day’s events," you write, “did very well under difficult circumstances." But you make no mention of concern for the students who were beaten and shot by those officers. What was it, precisely, that they did so well?

It seems that you have backed away from these initial statements. In your lastest message from November 23 (available here), you state that UCPD has begun an investigation into its actions. We hope this investigation will not only provide the public with concrete information about UCPD’s conduct on the day in question but furthermore hold UCPD accountable. Nevertheless, this is far from sufficient. What about the officers from other departments? Who will investigate and hold them accountable for their actions? Most importantly, what about your own decision to call them in? Will this be investigated as well?

The injuries on Friday came at the hands of the police, the same police you deemed necessary and appropriate to "maintain safety." It boggles the mind that the chancellor of a public university would put the students whose interests he is supposed to be defending at such risk -- and it is outrageous that you would brazenly excuse this violence as little more than "regrettable."

Your latest email once again expresses such "regret." But it is hedged with evasion: there was no police brutality, for example, but only "alleged actions of police brutality"; while the YouTube videos of police officers beating unarmed protesters with batons "may not accurately reflect the whole sequence of events." Of course they don’t tell the whole story, but little does; sometimes a short story can be enough. We are not "distressed at the portrayal in the media of our campus" -- we are distressed at the state of our campus itself and the absolute disregard with which the administration and its police force have treated those who make up our community. We the undersigned demand that you publicly and straightforwardly take responsibility for the unprovoked attacks made by the police under your command.


The undersigned graduate students of the UC Berkeley Department of Spanish and Portuguese:

Viviana Alcazar, Jessica Becker, Melissa Bota, Mayra Bottaro, Krista Brune, Julia Chang, Manuel R. Cuellar, Tara Daly, Camilo Jaramillo, Mary Lee, Mirian Lee, Ivett López, Ricardo López, Silvia López, Dena Marie, Juliana Martínez, Robert Medina, Daniel Nemser, Paul Norberg, Alejandro Reyes Arias, Eduardo Ruiz, Donna Southard, Iulia Sprinceana, Natalia Valencia, J. Selene Zander

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Wed, Nov 25, 2009 11:31AM
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