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Langan Comments on Nov9 to Police Review Board

Langan Comments on Nov9 to Police Review Board

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Published by: Chris Newfield on Mar 12, 2012
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 Reflections on the UCPD Police Presentation
, 6-7 March 2012Professor Celeste Langan, English Department, UC BerkeleyTo the Police Review Board:I hope you will accept these further reflections on the police presentation at the meetingsof the Police Review Board; at the close of the meeting, I made a few extemporarycomments about that presentation, but I think I may not have made the connections between these points clear.I grouped my remarks around 3 terms: “context,” “unlawful assembly,” and“communication.”The lawyer for UCPD, Janine Scancarelli, identified one of her purposes as the provisionof context for the montage of videos. There were two main aspects of her contextualization.*On the one hand, she referenced EVC Breslauer’s account, at the Faculty Senatemeeting of November 28, 2011, of what had been on the minds of the administration:OWS, Occupy Oakland, People’s Park, the tree-sitters. Vice Chancellor Breslauer acknowledged that these sites of memory had apparently crowded out from considerationthe recent events of November 2009, where the police response to the occupation of Wheeler Hall, and particularly its interactions with the crowd assembled out of support of or concern over that action, had drawn public criticism and elicited the thoughtful reviewand recommendations of the Brazil Report.*On the other, she referenced the efforts made in the days leading up to November 9 tonegotiate with some faculty and some student representatives, and the announcementsmade over the bullhornon November 9, prior to the deployment of police baton strikes,that the assembly had been declared “unlawful” and those assembled ordered to disperse.She also described the plan that the police had developed in the days and hours leadingup to the tents being erected on November 9. We heard from Captain Margo Bennett that police planned to use bullhorns rather than the PA system because they did not knowwhere the tents would appear, and bullhorns were more mobile. We heard that, once thetents had been set up, taken down by police, and re-erected in the afternoon, that a planwas developed to have police move in from both the north and the south of Sproul Plaza.We also heard that, in the evening, police wanted not only to gain access to the tents, butalso to move the crowd off the lawn area where the tents had been repeatedly erected, andto occupy this ground for some period of time. We also heard that all of these plans weredeveloped with the object only of removing or preventing encampment, and that it wasthe desire of the police not to interfere with “the protest.” Repeatedly, it was alleged thatthe reason the police did not remove the tents via the southern access route that was firstestablished in the afternoon, and used what might then be judged to have beenunnecessary force to gain access through the north, was because they wanted not todisrupt “the protest.” She also showed videos, including one from the evening thatcaptured the police in their phalanx (I’m sorry that I’ve forgotten the term of art used bythe police to describe this tactic), shouting, “Move! Move!” at the same time they
 
advanced their batons into the bodies of protesters. She showed this and other videos,she said, to demonstrate that the police exercised a “disciplined”, not a “random,” use of  baton strikes. She also alleged that the crowd was growing increasingly “restless,” butoffered no video confirmation of police statements, in the immediate aftermath of theevents, that “the body blocking, the pushing, the yelling, a couple times things werethrown … those were the kinds of things that prompted the arrests of individuals” (
 DailyCalifornian,
“Use of Police Force Draws Fierce Condemnation,” Nov. 12, 2011).These are the points I wish you to recall as I reflect on “context,” “unlawful assembly,”and “communication.”CONTEXT1.Even if Vice-Chancellor Breslauer had forgotten about the Brazil report, itscriticisms (of the administration’s “bunker mentality”; of the failures of the police(a) to communicate effectively with the crowd; and (b) to offer sufficientsupervision of the non-UCPD police), that is no excuse for a similar inattention bythe police to the recommendations of the report. In particular, as I suggested,there was probably sufficient time, once the General Assembly had voted, publically and vociferously, to erect the tents on the grass in front of Sproul Plaza(rather than an alternate location that had been suggested) for the PA system tohave been put into operation.2.The Police Review Board has heard testimony from a representative of theGraduate Assembly that in the conversations prior to November 9, she repeatedlyraised the question of what the response would be if attempts to prevent or remove tents were met with mass civil disobedience. She reported that the onlyanswer to her question was, “You’re speaking of hypotheticals.” Given theattention devoted to other hypotheticals (would Occupy Cal morph into People’sPark? Occupy Oakland?), this refusal to develop (or at least a refusal toarticulate) a plan if the police encountered mass civil disobedience is striking.UNLAWFUL ASSEMBLYProbably the central problem at issue in the presentations made to the Police ReviewBoard concerns the police announcement that the gathering of people linking armsaround the tents on the grass in front of Sproul Hall had been declared an “unlawfulassembly.” The real dispute is not whether everyone heard this announcement; what wewished to point out is that the bullhorn was an ineffective means of communication,which required the supplement of a “mic check” repetition, and that the choice indicatedUCPD’s disregard for the recommendations of the Brazil report. What is at issue is Dr.Scancarelli’s claim, repeated by Captain Bennett, that, at the same time the police haddeclared an unlawful assembly and gave orders to disperse, they were also trying not tointerfere with “the protest.”It is important to point out that at no time did the police communicate this (apparentlycontradictory) message to the assembled crowd. Professor Butler pointedly asked, on thefirst day, about the spatial dimensions of the assembly that had been declared “unlawful”:did it extend to the Sproul steps, to the plaza? And how was anyone to ascertain thesespatial dimensions? We tried to point out that, while the declaration of unlawful
 
assembly and the order to disperse had been given, no
instructions
 
for dispersal wereannounced over the bullhorn.Even more important, I believe, is the failure of the police accurately to communicate the
consequences
the protesters might face if they disobeyed the order to disperse givenimmediately after the declaration of unlawful assembly. We heard the UCPD policelieutenant say that they would be “subject to arrest.” But in fact, we learned from Dr.Scancarelli that the police plan did
not 
involve mass arrests (this was confirmed by thefact that, although the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department had been called, for severalhours neither the UCPD nor the ACSD had vehicles available to transport even the 6initially arrested.)
At no time did the police say: “Our objective is to clear a passageto take down the tents. Those who obstruct our passage will be shoved and struck by batons. If you do not wish to be subjected to this action, you must delink yourarms
.
If you do delink your arms, you will not be judged to be part of an unlawfulassembly, and you will be subject neither to arrest nor to baton strikes.”
To our minds,
that 
is what would be a sufficient attempt to communicate with protesters.I want to connect this lack of communication to the context, because it suggests a failureof the administration and the police to consider the nature of 
civil disobedience
. Civildisobedience is a practice of political dissent that has a tradition and norms. It is notdescribed in the campus’s “rules for safe protest” because it involves a refusal to obeylaws and/or the commands of a police force that have become repugnant to its citizens. Itis a deliberate violation of law designed to remind us all that in a democratic society,laws are not only enacted by but also require the consent of the governed. Dr. Scancarelliattempted to dispute Professor Butler’s description of linked arms as an expression of solidarity iconically identified with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movementof the 1960s; Dr. Scancarelli said that arms were not linked to obstruct police. But thecharge of “obstruction” was used to justify police brutality on the occasion of the firstattempt to march from Selma to Montgomery on “Bloody Sunday” (March 7, 1965).
1
 Another relevant “context” for understanding the decision of Occupy Cal protesters tolink arms is Berkeley’s own Free Speech Movement, and the famous speech of MarioSavio, in which he expressed anguished opposition to an odious “system,” and identifiedthe University as part of that system in his implicit equation of student sit-ins with“putting your bodies upon the wheels, upon the lever, upon all the apparatus.” “Puttingyour bodies upon the wheels, upon the lever” is a phrase that expresses the relation between civil disobedience and the obstruction of police enforcement policies.There are also norms and traditions of responding to acts of civil disobedience. Of course, there is an ongoing problem of police violence, witnessed on Bloody Sunday in1965 as well as before and after. Visual evidence of police beating nonviolent protesters,however, has frequently elicited public outrage, and sometimes expensive, drawn-outlegal cases. There is another, far more palatable tradition, however. On this model police instruct the assembly that they are being arrested for their act of disobedience;each protester is arrested (usually standing up) and led away to a place where, after being processed, the demonstrators are cited and immediately released.One question certainly pertinent to the Board’s review of November 9 surely
must
 be:Why did the UCPD have no plan for, and apparently no interest in, arresting students

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