As I posted earlier, during the course of a march on the home of UC Berkeley’s chancellor last night, some of the marchers broke windows, lights, and planters at the residence. Some are also alleged to have thrown burning torches at the home and at police.
I’ve posted some general thoughts on the question of property damage and violence against individuals as protest tactics, but someone at Occupy California has put up a defense of last night’s rioting that I want to respond to directly.
Here’s the relevant passage:
The Chancellor, although not the sole contributor to the crisis we face now, was directly involved in the unjust arrests of Wheeler Hall in the morning and continues to threaten the futures of the stakeholders of the University of California, Berkeley. He is … a powerful and influential individual that refuses to accept both the project that Live Week attempted to create and the fact that he shares a part of the blame, no matter who he can point his finger at. … As the events unrolled during the evening, it was clear that many are aware of the lack of faith the Chancellor has for the students and many have become aware of the power that individuals have, due to promise that Live Week fulfilled, to create a space for people to come together.
Although some may attempt to paint the evening as a night of petty violence, this event reveals a refusal to accept the university’s actions and the physically violent police repression in passivity. The property damage incurred may seem ruthlessly aberrant and scarring on a university already suffering budget woes, but the damage incurred by the silencing of stakeholders Friday morning exceeds beyond any value the university can place on some broken glass and ceramics.
First, throwing a planter at the window of someone’s home while there are people inside is not merely an act of vandalism. It is an act of assault. The person or people who attempted to break the chancellor’s windows could not have known whether the glass would hold or whether there was someone on the other side of the glass.
Attempting to smash the windows of someone’s home is not just “property damage.” It is not just “scarring on a university.” It is an attack on the people inside that home.
Second, the question of whether the chancellor “shares a part of the blame” for the arrests at Wheeler or the university’s budget crisis is not the issue here. He obviously does. The question is whether attacking his home with him and his wife inside it is an appropriate response to his misdeeds.
Again, this was not just a matter of some spray-paint or a few broken planters. The chancellor said this morning that he and his wife feared for their personal safety last night, and I believe him. He had reason to fear. There were people with torches outside his home, smashing things against it, trying to break in. That’s not just “some broken glass and ceramics.” That’s a violent attack, and it’s outrageous.
Update | In an earlier version of this post, quoted at Inside Higher Ed, I described the attack on the chancellor’s residence as the act of “a violent mob.” That characterization was based in large part on the account posted at Occupy California, but information has since come to light that calls that version of events into question. See this follow-up post for more.