Last week six UC Berkeley students went on trial on charges stemming from a March occupation of Berkeley’s Wheeler Hall. Unlike the Irvine 11, their fate was decided by a judge, not a jury. And unlike the Irvine 11, they were found not guilty.
The acquittals of these six students, however, were followed just two days later by the arrests of two more, at the campus’s “Day 1” protests marking the start of the fall semester throughout the UC system.
Police say that protesters on September 22 threw chairs, bottles, and chunks of concrete at cops, and that members of the group used oversized book-cover props as shields and offensive weapons. But one officer’s claim that “we respect people’s right to protest, but we ask that they do it safely and peacefully” rings hollow in light of UC’s recent history with nonviolent protest.
As I noted earlier this week, hundreds of student activists have been arrested on UC campuses in the last two years, many in situations in which no protester violence was even alleged. (In the most egregious case, sixty-six students were woken from their sleep and arrested in the unlocked building they were peacefully and non-disruptively occupying, just hours before that occupation’s scheduled end.) One student journalist was not only put through the wringer of the campus judicial system — in an incident I’ll be writing about tomorrow — but forced to pay court costs when a legal challenge to the university’s procedures failed.
Berkeley, and the UC system generally, have systematically criminalized nonviolent confrontational protest over the course of the last two years. The result has been a wave of questionable arrests and prosecutions, a ratcheting up of student tactics, and a dramatic increase in police violence. With students chaining themselves together on high ledges and police officers pointing guns at angry crowds, the whole situation is a tragedy waiting to happen.
Something’s got to give.