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Butler and Simon Comment on Nov 9 to Police Review Board

Butler and Simon Comment on Nov 9 to Police Review Board

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Published by Chris Newfield

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Published by: Chris Newfield on Mar 12, 2012
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03/12/2012

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1Opening Remarks and Rebuttal, Police Review Board, Faculty AdvocatesMarch 5-6, 2012Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor of Rhetoric and Comparative LiteratureJonathan Simon, Adrian A. Kragen Professor of LawThank you very much for this opportunity to show the footage we have found depictingthe events of November 9
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under consideration here. Before we show this clip, which lastsabout 20 minutes, we would like to make some contextualizing remarks and explain what it is weunderstand our appointed task to be. We understand that you have already received some oraltestimony about the events that happened, and we ask that the oral testimony be treated alongsidethe visual testimony presented here. As you know, there was no one camera following all theevents, and many of the events, including the preceding and following sequences were notcaptured by cameras on the spot. As a result, the presentation of evidence in this case dependsupon a number of people who only happened to be there and to be recording, and in no way canrepresent the full picture or the complete story. In some cases, as you will see, the same event iscovered from different cameras with different perspectives.We have understood our own mandate to represent, as faculty, the student side of thestory, and so we have worked with some students who were there to produce a video and atimeline that we believe best represents the events of that day. And we have collected sometestimony from students, although most of them voiced skepticism about the Police ReviewBoard, and were reluctant to participate in a process whose efficacy and fairness remainsuncertain. Indeed, it has not been altogether clear to us from the beginning what the mandate of this inquiry is, and why it has been framed in the way that it has. If the inquiry follows from anexplicit request of the Chancellor to inquire into whether or not police actions in relation todemonstrations on campus conform, or fail to conform, to university norms of what police action
 
2should be, then surely we need to ask two sets of questions from the start. The first set includesthese two: how are those norms established? And how have they changed over time? Thesecond set follows from the first: how best do we judge the current norms that govern policeconduct on campus, and how, if at all, ought those norms to be changed. Indeed, if we are askingwhether the actions do or do not conform to norms, are we then conceding that there are noavailable rules or standards that have already been established by the Police Review Board, theBrazil Report, or other university offices?
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Or are we saying that the police, in fact, did operateaccording to accepted norms, and that what we have seen, and will see, are the expressions of anew normative regime?If we are restricted to asking whether or not police action conforms to existing norms,that does not really allow us to question whether the development of current norms are legitimateor not. In other words, as the video shows, new norms have come into play that establishexcessive and unprovoked force on the part of police against students and faculty practicingclearly established forms of non-violent civil disobedience.What we are witnessing historically at this juncture is the development of a new set o protocols that engage military techniques against students and faculty engaging in forms of  protest that have been, for decades, regarded as expression of free speech and the freedom of assembly.
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These same actions are now re-named as ³threats to campus security´, suggesting aviolent or destructive set of actions. It cannot be the case that the non-violent expression of ideas ± in this case, ideas about the enduring value of affordable public education ± are themselvesthreats to the university. The threat to the university clearly comes first from the fact that itsfunding has been cut back massively in recent years, and that students acquire debt in the midstof an imperiled education, and go through their days with a damaged sense of their own future,the closing down of possibilities. And the threat to the university emerges as well through thetraining and unleashing of a police force against students and faculty who are engaged in aneducational project, and whose viewpoints, their non-violent modes of expression have beencruelly renamed as criminal. Indeed, it is not only the security of the university that is clearlythreatened when the unleashing of violent police force becomes the norm, but when what isattacked is the right of free assembly, the rights of protest, the exercise of freedom, and the
 
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 spirited defense of a public university.Unlike some infrastructures, e.g., public transit systems or sports facilities, which areresilient to episodes of violence because they require little trust or personal engagement by their  participants, academic institutions, which require a great deals, and are often deeply personal intheir engagement of a person¶s thoughts, emotions and imagination, are extraordinarily sensitiveto violence. One way of describing this is that academic communities have an especially largestake in the dignity of the individual participant. Of course, all democratic societies have a stakein the dignity of persons under their jurisdiction, as large organizations do, but the academicstake in dignity is an extraordinary one. Acts that degrade subject carry an especially high costin such a community. One might have assumed that was precisely the reason to have a dedicated police force, purpose designed to protect this vulnerable environment from the rough order maintenance priorities that more general jurisdiction police might display.The question before us is not whether the students were right or wrong to pitch the tents,where they did. Nor is the question whether some students chose to risk arrest by linking arms incivil disobedient defense of the handful of tents ultimately erected: many clearly did. Thequestion is: what is the appropriate university response to the pitching of tents when they areexplicitly prohibited by the administration? And even if the creation of large tent encampmentsis an undesirable form of political expression for the overall good of the campus, what is theappropriate way to manage a situation in which a small and contained cluster of tents are erectedin a common area?
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Surely, the pitching of tents is not a violent act, nor was the location, SproulPlaza, one which endangered core academic or administrative functions (as a building take-over could arguably be said to do). And even if a fearful administrator or police official senses thatthe pitching of the tent is the first step toward the commission of violent acts, that premonitioncannot be confirmed outside of clear evidence that there were intentions manifested by thestudents to undertake violent actions. And even if students taunt officers verbally, that is notviolent action, and certainly provides no justification for the beating of students. Indeed, policeshould be trained to handle verbal taunting without responding with violent forms of retaliation.As we all know, or should know, the linking of arms is an established non-violent practice, onethat was widely used in the south during peaceful protests against segregation. The arms are

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