[News] Behind the Privatization of UC, a Riot Squad of Police

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Nov 24 12:10:39 EST 2009


November 24, 2009

Behind the Privatization of the UC, a Riot Squad of Police

Occupy Everything!



This was bound to be a big week in California 
regardless, as the threat of a 32 percent tuition 
and fee increase across the University of 
California system made a crashing entrance into 
reality with Wednesday’s vote by the UC Board of 
Regents. Perhaps the Regents and UC President 
Mark Yudof expected that their diversionary 
tactics--lament the crisis and direct blame to 
Sacramento’s budget cuts--would pay off. But this was not to be.

Aided in no small part by the explosive exposé 
published by UC Santa Cruz Professor of Political 
Science Bob Meister, the student, faculty, and 
workers’ movements the length and breadth of the 
state were no longer willing to accept 
privatization disguised as crisis-imposed budget 
cuts. As 
explained in no uncertain terms, the proposed 
(and now passed) tuition increase has nothing 
whatsoever to do with budget cuts, but the cuts 
merely provided the pretext for a long-planned 
drive (and Reaganite wet dream) to privatize 
public education in California once and for all.

Anti-Capital Projects

A statewide day of action on September 24th 
generated mass walkouts and sporadic occupations, 
both successful (at UC Santa Cruz) and not 
UC Berkeley). A UC-centric assembly called for a 
month later yielded mixed results: a plan to 
build for a 
<http://takeastand4publiced.org/>March 4th 
action, but only the vaguest of decisions 
regarding what such actions would entail. This 
sporadic guerrilla struggle, however, would yield 
a full-scale war of maneuver once the stakes of 
the November 18th UC Regents meeting became clear.

A coalition of organizations at UC Berkeley 
endorsed a three day strike in which the third 
day, contingent upon the expected Regents’ 
decision, called simply for “Escalation.” On 
Thursday the 19th, 
protestors seized Campbell Hall (now renamed 
“Carter-Huggins Hall” after the slain Black 
Panthers who lost their lives between those very 
walls in 1969). Across campus, protestors 
confronted the Regents themselves as they voted 
for the fee hikes, with the militarized 
atmosphere <http://ow.ly/DBSO>sparking first 
clashes on Wednesday and then a veritable state 
of siege in Thursday from which 
Regents were forced to flee the angry crowds.

Just a few short hours later, UCSC students 
marched from the already-occupied Kresge Town 
Hall to Kerr administration building, gaining 
unexpected access to and holding the building 
until Sunday. Also on Thursday, hundreds of UC 
Davis students 
the Mrak administrative building on campus, 
clearly touching a nerve and prompting 52 
arrests. Less than 24 hours later, students again 
occupied: this time in Dutton Hall, where they 
remained until being dispersed by police. As this 
goes to press, Mrak is again in the crosshairs.

At Berkeley on Wednesday afternoon, after a rally 
and march of some 1,000 students, workers, and 
faculty at UC Berkeley, a group of more than 
thirty surreptitiously gained access to the 
diminutive Architects and Engineers Building, 
nestled between Sproul and Barrows Halls and 
which hosts UCB’s capital projects. Responding in 
part to Meister’s revelation that it was capital 
projects rather than budget cuts that were 
driving the cuts and fee increases, activists 
responded with 
communiqué and website aptly entitled “Anti-Capital Projects”:

The arriving freshman is treated as a mortgage, 
and the fees are climbing. She is a future 
revenue stream, and the bills are growing. She is 
security for a debt she never chose, and the cost 
is staggering
 No building will be safe from 
occupation while this is the case. No capital 
project but the project to end capital.

The occupation of the Capital Projects Building, 
however, would be short-lived, as police soon 
gained access and occupiers negotiated a 
strategic withdrawal on the promise that they 
would not engage in any other unlawful activity 
for a week. But a week is a long time at moments like these.

Lines of Force are Revealed

At around 6am on Thursday morning, UCPD became 
aware that Wheeler Hall, a 
and massive building at the very heart of the 
Berkeley campus, had been occupied by more than 
40 protesters. Police quickly gained access to 
the lower floors of the building, arresting three 
occupiers, who were immediately and vindictively 
charged not with trespassing, but with felony 
burglary. By 6:30a.m., an already surprising 
number of supporters, in the dozens, had received 
word of the occupation and gathered on the west 
side of Wheeler to show their support. By 
mid-morning, the number had increased to 
hundreds. As the crowd grew, UCPD responded with 
a mutually-reinforcing combination of aggression 
and fear: aggressively smashing into the growing 
crowds to install metal barriers where caution 
tape had proven insufficient, and calling 
desperately for backup first to Berkeley PD, then 
to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, and finally to Oakland PD.

Around 1pm, the skies opened up in a downpour 
that might have, in other conditions and other 
situations, dispersed the crowd entirely. But 
instead, umbrellas popped up like mushroom caps, 
tents were erected, and plastic bags distributed 
as makeshift ponchos as the crowd of hundreds 
persisted. Had the police gained access to the 
occupiers during the storm, the day would have 
ended much differently. But as it turned out, the 
occupiers held strong, the skies cleared, and as 
evening fell, the crowds began to swell further. 
One demonstrator confessed nostalgia at the sight 
of the umbrellas, and the reminder they offered 
of another seminal moment in trans-sectoral 
unity: that of the 1999 anti-WTO demonstrations 
in Seattle that sparked the alter-globalization movement.

The occupiers, 
through a series of windows on the west side of 
their demands to the gathering crowds by megaphone:

    * Rehire all 38 AFCSME custodial workers recently laid off;
    * Drop all charges and provide total amnesty 
to all persons occupying buildings and involved 
in student protests concerning budget cuts;
    * Maintain the current business occupants of 
the bears lair food court and enter into 
respectful and good faith negotiations;
    * Preserve Rochdale apartments leased to 
Berkeley student cooperative for $1 a year in perpetuity.

It became clear that the police and university 
administration were in no mood to negotiate on 
these terms: this much they communicated 
non-verbally with their pepper spray under the 
door, with their battering rams and wedges, and 
verbally with their promises of violence, as 
occupiers were told to “get ready for the 
beatdown.” Some of the occupiers, overtaken by 
the unmistakable candor of such threats, sought a 
last-minute compromise that would allow them to leave unscathed.

For a while it seemed as though such negotiations 
had failed dismally. Demonstrators outside could 
hear the police making a final offensive to smash 
down the door, and 
occupiers could be seen as dusk fell, back to the 
window, visible only in outline with their hands 
raised to be arrested. But the atmosphere was 
tense, and the swelling crowd had no plans to let 
the police carry the arrestees out without a 
fight. Hours earlier, tactical groups had been 
preemptively dispatched to all possible exits 
from the network of underground tunnels that 
connect Wheeler to the neighboring buildings. 
Students who, by all outward appearance, could 
have been members of sororities or fraternities, 
demanded to know where bodies were most needed to 
maintain a strong and impermeable perimeter.

Let this be clear: if the students were arrested 
and carried out, there was going to be a fight. A 
riot? Perhaps (this much depended on the police). A fight? Mos def.

A “Victory”?

As with all massively important political 
moments, the rancid stench of opportunism was 
never far off, emanating from some student 
leaders and faculty alike. While many faculty 
members performed admirably during the standoff 
(some, like 
of Integrative Biology Robert Dudley even being 
arrested for their efforts), some skillfully 
substituted their own voices and their own 
demands for those of the students engaged in the occupation.

Particularly egregious in this respect was 
Democratic Party “framing” strategist and 
self-styled movement guru George Lakoff. Visibly 
angered by the occupiers’ refusal to leave 
Wheeler voluntarily (without any of their demands 
having been met, of course), Lakoff seized the 
megaphone to spew the morally bankrupt argument 
that since the students knew they would be met 
with police violence, they would themselves be 
responsible for creating that violence if they 
chose to remain. No more repulsive a phrase was 
uttered that day. And were this not sufficient, 
Lakoff was even heard lying repeatedly to the 
occupiers, insisting that there had been no 
police violence, no rubber bullets, and no 
injuries outside the building, all in an effort 
to manipulate those inside into abandoning the occupation.

In speaking with more than a dozen of the 
occupiers, one sentiment above all was expressed 
regarding the role of many faculty that day: a 
deep sense of betrayal. As one occupier told me: 
“we asked the faculty to mediate and to negotiate 
with the administration as a way to get our 
demands out, but apparently they interpreted this 
as a call to negotiate with us so that we would 
leave the building.” In fact, many of those 
mediating--be they faculty, ASUC officials, and 
leaders of student organizations--were 
self-appointed and drawn almost unanimously from 
the ranks of those who had opposed the tactic of 
occupation to begin with. And this would show: 
according to many of the occupiers, these 
mediators, in focusing their attention on calming 
the crowds outside and encouraging the occupiers 
to leave, had effectively performed a “policing 
function” that protected the administration from the protesters.

Ali Tonak, a UC Berkeley graduate student, 
summarizes the feeling that many expressed:

They have a warped understanding of how power 
works. They think that calming people outside was 
keeping the people inside safe, when it was 
really the opposite: the only thing that was 
keeping the folks inside safe was people being 
rowdy outside. In the end, the negotiators were doing the job of the state.

And this opportunism was not limited to faculty. 
As word came down that a deal had been struck to 
allow the students to walk out the front doors of 
Wheeler with nothing but misdemeanors, those who 
had spent the day attempting to calm the angry 
crowds shifted their demobilizing efforts into 
full gear, shutting down any and all possible 
debate regarding what had transpired. The crowd 
was urged to sit (ironically, while chanting that 
they were “fired up,” and that students should 
“stand up” for their rights), and self-appointed 
student leaders, most of whom had opposed the 
occupation plans from the very beginning, set 
about explaining that the day had been a “victory.”

Of course, in a sense it had been a victory of 
sorts, but not in the sense that it was presented 
to the crowd. It was no coincidence that all 
interruptions from the crowd, from those who 
wondered aloud, “What about the demands? What 
about the layoffs? What about the fees?” were 
quickly and summarily dismissed and silenced by 
self-appointed “mediators” whose only common 
feature was their previous opposition to occupations.

recent statement from the UCLA occupation of 
Carter-Huggins Hall sets its sights on student 
body president Cinthia Flores, “a junior 
politician careerist bent on control,” and in so 
doing provides an acute diagnosis of the more 
general danger of political opportunism, a danger 
which must be fought tooth-and-nail if the movement is to move forward:

These people thrive on the status quo, it’s their 
realm, and they always want to drag back those 
who escape. There are CINTHIA’s everywhere who 
up and direct the movement-police to be 
encountered at any site of struggle. Occupation 
takes power and immediately destroys its 
concentrated form. Beware of bureaucrats, occupy everything!

A “Peaceful” Ending?

And the claim that the occupiers had emerged 
victorious erased more than their unfulfilled 
demands. It also concealed the aggressively 
violent response that UCPD and its imported 
proxies had unleashed that day. As mentioned 
above, this violence began early on, as UCPD 
attempted to install metal barricades by 
into the growing crowds and 
<http://ow.ly/Ehjx>attacking anyone standing 
their ground. As the day progressed, 
from various forces were seen ruthlessly 
<http://twitpic.com/qb6qu>pounding any and all 
protestors who disobeyed the momentary 
absoluteness of their sovereignty, with one such 
protestor being 
in the chest with an unidentified projectile.

The pettiness of such sovereignty and the 
repulsiveness of its executors were in no case so 
clear as that of UC Berkeley graduate student 
Zhivka Valiavicharska. 
this video shows, an unidentified member of (what 
appears to be) the UCPD suddenly found his 
authority called into question by the fact that 
Zhivka’s hands were on a police barrier, and 
found it necessary to threaten her and strike the 
barrier with his baton. What the video does not 
show occurred just a minute later, when the 
officer again approached the barrier and smashed 
Zhivka’s hand with full force, breaking two 
fingers and nearly reducing one to pulp so that it was hanging by threads.

As Zhivka herself describes the attack:

I was holding on to the barrier with one of my 
hands, and this cop came up and started rudely 
shouting at me, telling me to take my hand off 
and threatening me.  My hand remained there. The 
cop made me withdraw my hand by hitting the rail 
right next to it. When I leaned it again on the 
rail, he smashed it with full force. It was very 
deliberate, very skillful, and extremely 
excessive, since no one was challenging the 
barriers where I was at that moment.

Who was the officer that maliciously and 
intentionally attacked a member of the student 
population with the intention to do serious 
bodily harm? What of the witnessing officer, J. 
Williams, Badge #93, who is clearly identifiable 
in the video? Will UCPD and Chancellor Birgeneau 
immediately begin an investigation into the 
officer’s identity, suspend him immediately, and press criminal charges?

Former Berkeley undergraduate Yaman Salahi was 
present to witness the police violence, and 
immediately penned 
thoughtful and necessary letter to the UC 
Berkeley community in which he heaps 
responsibility, quite rightly, onto the shoulders 
of Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, for not only 
loosing these various police forces onto the 
campus community, but also for attempting to 
cover up the violence he himself had unleashed in 
an email dispatch later sent to the entire campus 
community. Despite the many instances of 
documented violence by police, the Chancellor 
nevertheless insisted that the situation “ended 
peacefully” and thanked the police for playing a positive role.

Salahi demands a “statement against the 
deployment of non-UCPD personnel against students 
on this campus in the future,” adding that “In 
addition to students’ limbs, something has been 
broken, and Chancellor Birgeneau’s cover-up will 
not fix it.” But while I agree with Salahi’s 
general concerns, it is worth noting that it was 
not OPD, BPD, or the Alameda County Sheriff’s 
Department that smashed Zhivka’s fingers. It was 
UCPD, a force which remains as alien to the 
university community as OPD is to East Oakland. 
When we challenge their privatizing efforts, they 
will meet us with whatever force is at their 
disposal and with whatever violence is deemed 
necessary. As I write this, however, it appears 
as though Salahi’s call is meeting some receptive 
ears, and a group of prominent faculty members 
have begun an investigation into the police 
brutality deployed against students all across the UC system.

Remembrance the Past, Realizing Our Power

Remembering and reinscribing the violence of this 
police response into our collective memory of the 
occupation is of more than historical interest, 
however, and consists of more than merely 
remembering the pain inflicted upon our comrades, 
however necessary this may be. It is in this 
violent police response that a strategically 
correct interpretation of events lies, and this 
fact makes efforts to conceal the conflict of the 
day more than merely an effort to prevent further 
violence. The police response showed precisely 
what was at stake in the occupation, and what 
remains at stake in the movement more generally. 
The police response showed exactly how far the UC 
Regents, President Yudof, and the local 
administrations are willing to go in order to 
drive the privatization of public education down 
our unwilling throats. It showed us, in short, 
that we were doing something right, and we can 
expect more of the same if we ever hope to win.

And that’s not all: the final police and 
administration response--that of opting to let 
the occupiers walk out of Wheeler of their own 
accord--tells even more of the story. It tells us 
just how powerful our collective presence was on 
that day. There can be no doubt that every single 
occupier would have been arrested, likely beaten 
and abused to some degree, and hit with the 
trumped-up felony charges, had the crowd not been 
assembled outside. And this was not merely 
because the crowd was bearing witness to 
injustice or expressing its verbal non-consent.

It was not moderation and negotiation that 
created and sustained this pivotal moment and 
generated its outcome: it was the unmistakable 
show of force that the students gathered 
represented, a force that was not merely 
symbolic. As the great revolutionary CLR James 
once put it: “The rich are only defeated when 
running for their lives.” The same could be said 
of today’s privatizers of public education, and 
those running things more generally. Oakland’s 
Oscar Grant rebellions 
us this much in January, as it was only the 
threat of continued rioting that put BART officer 
Johannes Mehserle behind bars. The Berkeley 
occupation movement teaches us the same lesson today.

And we have late word of a library occupation at 
Cal State Fresno, and more are on the way, at 
Berkeley and elsewhere. Earlier today, marchers 
occupied the UC Office of the President in 
downtown Oakland to demand a face-to-face with 
Mark Yudof. Further, the contagion is 
international, as the students who have held 
Austria in a constant state of occupation for 
weeks on end 
en masse<http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/2610022> 
yesterday onto the US embassy in Vienna as a 
demonstration of solidarity with the California 
occupations and outrage at the images of police 
violence that have been broadcast across the 
globe. This is a force that is expanding as we 
speak, and will do so as the months pass and 
contradictions become more acute. The university 
struggle has turned a crucial corner on the UC 
Berkeley campus, and a qualitative leap in 
consciousness has occurred, by weight not of 
peaceful entreaties but of forceful demands.

George Ciccariello-Maher is a Ph.D. candidate in 
political theory at U.C. Berkeley. He can be reached at gjcm(at)berkeley.edu.

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