UC Berkeley police speak out on Occupy protest

Reporters this morning received an e-mailed statement from Concord political and media consultant Mary Jo Rossi on behalf of the UC Berkeley Police Officers Association regarding officers’ clash with students during the Occupy Cal protest on Nov. 9. Here’s the statement in its entirety; I’ve inserted the video to which I believe it refers.

It is our hope that this letter will help open the door to a better understanding between UC Berkeley police and the University community.

The UC Berkeley Police Officers’ Association, representing approximately 64 campus police officers, understands your frustration over massive tuition hikes and budget cuts, and we fully support your right to peacefully protest to bring about change.

It was not our decision to engage campus protesters on November 9th. We are now faced with “managing” the results of years of poor budget planning. Please know we are not your enemy.

A video clip gone viral does not depict the full story or the facts leading up to an actual incident. Multiple dispersal requests were given in the days and hours before the tent removal operation. Not caught on most videos were scenes of protesters hitting, pushing, grabbing officers’ batons, fighting back with backpacks and skateboards.

The UC Berkeley Police Officers’ Association supports a full investigation of the events that took place on November 9th, as well as a full review of University policing policies. That being said, we do not abrogate responsibility for the events on November 9th.

UC Berkeley police officers want to better serve students and faculty members and we welcome ideas for how we can have a better discourse to avoid future confrontations. We are open to all suggestions on ways we can improve our ability to better protect and serve the UC Berkeley community.

As your campus police, we also have safety concerns that we ask you to consider.

Society has changed significantly since 1964 when peaceful UC Berkeley student protesters organized a 10-hour sit-in in Sproul Hall and 10,000 students held a police car at bay – spawning change and the birth of our nation’s Free Speech Movement.

However proud we can all be of UC Berkeley’s contribution to free speech in America, no one can deny this: Our society in 2011 has become an extremely more violent place to live and to protect. No one understands the effects of this violence more than those of us in law enforcement.

Disgruntled citizens in this day and age express their frustrations in far more violent ways – with knives, with guns and sometimes by killing innocent bystanders. Peaceful protests can, in an instant, turn into violent rioting, ending in destruction of property or worse – the loss of lives. Police officers and innocent citizens everywhere are being injured, and in some instances, killed.

In the back of every police officer’s mind is this: How can I control this incident so it does not escalate into a seriously violent, potentially life-threatening event for all involved?

While students were calling the protest “non-violent,” the events on November 9th were anything but nonviolent. In previous student Occupy protests, protesters hit police officers with chairs, bricks, spitting, and using homemade plywood shields as weapons – with documented injuries to officers.

At a moment’s notice, the November 9th protest at UC Berkeley could have turned even more violent than it did, much like the Occupy protests in neighboring Oakland.

Please understand that by no means are we interested in making excuses. We are only hoping that you will understand and consider the frustrations we experience daily as public safety officers sworn to uphold the law. It is our job to keep protests from escalating into violent events where lives could be endangered.

We sincerely ask for your help in doing this.

Like you, we have been victims to budget cuts that affect our children and our families in real ways. We, too, hold on to the dream of being able to afford to send our children and grandchildren to a four-year university. Like you, we understand and fully support the need for change and a redirection of priorities.

To students and faculty: As 10,000 students surrounded a police car on campus in 1964, protesters passed the hat to help pay for repairs to the police car as a show of respect. Please peacefully respect the rules we are required to enforce – for all our safety and protection. Please respect the requests of our officers as we try to do our jobs.

To the University Administration and Regents: Please don’t ask us to enforce your policies then refuse to stand by us when we do. Your students, your faculty and your police – we need you to provide real leadership.

We openly and honestly ask the UC Berkeley community for the opportunity to move forward together, peacefully and without further incident – in better understanding of one another. Thank you for listening.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    The cops were using standard crowd control tactics as they were trained to do.

    They were simply carrying out the orders of the university administration.

    And then the cowardly university administration threw them under the bus.

  • raul

    I’m perplexed why a political campaign consultant is functioning as a mouthpiece for the UC Berkeley campus police. I find this exceedingly odd, is the campus police paying a big fat fee to this political campaign consultant to get their side of the story out? Don’t need a campaign consultant to do that, got to be some people on the UC PD who can write a press release. These campaign consultants are just big leaches on the political system, they live off special interest money. I hope public education dollars are not being used to pay for campaign consultants.

  • Rhys

    Post the documented injuries to police. Let’s see the video of students attacking officers. So far we’ve only seen students getting hurt. In this day and age when just about everyone has a camera phone, how can you tell us that there is no video of police getting hurt? This letter is just a pile of words. And as we all know by now- talk is cheap.

  • Elwood

    @ #2 Raul

    Rossi is being paid by the UC Berkeley Police Officers Association.

    Not to worry.

  • Elwood

    @ #3 Rhys

    So what are you trying to say?

    That the cops are lying?

    What would be their motive?

    Do you think that they enjoy using force to do their job?

  • Leandro Marques

    This line describes it all: “we understand and fully support the need for change and a redirection of priorities”. Police officers and the protestants are both struggling in this economy. The tax system in this country needs to change. Until then we occupy

  • joanna

    You expect us to believe that students suddenly stopped hitting and pushing cops moments before the video was taken?

    If pepper spraying peaceful students was not your intent, why did the unit show up in full riot gear and armed with all their best “less-than-lethal” weapons?

  • joanna

    @5: There is nothing unreasonable about asking for proof of the claims these police officers are laying down. I think they definitely enjoyed that use of force. Look at how casual Pike sprayed those students. That is not the body language of someone who feels threatened.

  • Elwood

    @ Joanna

    The cops showed up “in full riot gear and armed with all their best “less-than-lethal” weapons” because those are the tools they needed to carry out the instructions of the university administration.

    “I think they definitely enjoyed that use of force.”

    You can think anything you like, dear. That doesn’t make it so. I think your prejudices have made you delusional.

  • Elwood

    I’m starting a new movement:


  • Milan Moravec

    UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau’s campus police report to the chancellor and the campus police take direction from the chancellor. University of California (UC) campus chancellors vet their campus police protocols. Birgeneau allowed pepper spray and use of batons to be included in his campus police protocols.

    Chancellor Birgeneau’s campus police use brutal baton jabs on students protesting increases in tuition. UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau and UC Davis Chancellor Katehi are in dereliction of their duties.

    Birgeneau and UC Davis Chancellor need to quit or be fired for permitting the brutal outrages on students protesting tuition increases.

    Opinions? Email the UC Board of Regents marsha.kelman@ucop.edu

  • Elwood

    @ #11

    Good Lord, I hope the little darlings weren’t treated unkindly!

    Perhaps the cops should have offered them milk and cookies.

  • John W

    It’s been a consistent pattern through many of these Occupy events to force confrontation by getting in the faces of the police, or worse, and then scream police brutality. It’s one thing to go dead weight limp as a protest tactic. But direct, nose-to-nose confrontation is asking for trouble. If some mentally deranged guy on a city street threw bricks at cops, there’s a good chance he would be either tasered or shot in self-defense.