Nanette Asimov / San Francisco Chronicle – 2012-02-03 00:37:06
BERKELEY, CA (February 2, 2012) — Why does the University of California employ an armed police force on its campuses?
That question, and the anger implied in its wording, was asked repeatedly Wednesday night by UC Berkeley students and faculty of top UC brass. Berkeley was a whistle-stop on their tour of campuses before they prepare UC’s official response to the use of batons and pepper spray against peaceful protesters last November.
“I want to take issue with the idea that police on campus are in accordance with academic values,” Gina Patnaik, a doctoral student in English, told the officials and the crowd of about 50 people in Berkeley’s student union who had come to air their views. UC employs about 300 police officers across its 10 campuses.
One woman called the idea of an armed force at UC “incredibly bizarre,” while another said that some Latin American countries outlaw campus police altogether. Someone asked all undercover police who might be in the room to raise their hand. When two professor-types in sweaters raised their hands, students and faculty hissed or shook their heads in disgust.
Everyone sat in concentric circles waiting for the chance to influence recommendations being prepared on behalf of the university system by Charles Robinson, UC’s general counsel, and Chris Edley, dean of the UC Berkeley Law School.
Reports in the Works
Their report, due in March, is one of three forthcoming from UC to publicly address what is widely perceived as excessive, even brutal responses to students’ acts of civil disobedience against rising tuition and rising executive pay at a time of deep cuts to higher education.
On Nov. 9, UC Berkeley police and Alameda County sheriff’s deputies used batons to strike students who had erected Occupy tents on the steps of Sproul Hall. On Nov. 18, UC Davis police officers were caught on video placidly coating seated protesters with pepper spray.
Both campuses are preparing reports focused on fact finding and who bears responsibility. At Davis, where the police chief and two officers have been placed on leave, the report is due Feb. 21.
The Berkeley report is expected in March.
Robinson and Edley said their report won’t be investigative like the others. Instead they are visiting campuses, listening to students and faculty, and trying to figure out what UC should do differently. Students have steadily complained about excessive police tactics against protesters since 2009.
Perhaps the most-applauded suggestion Wednesday night came from Anant Sahai, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, who said campuses should call on trained mediators instead of police during tense student protests.
“Students want to be engaged in a sincere, substantive dialogue,” Sahai said into the microphone. “The role of the mediators should be to facilitate this conversation.”
“Great idea,” Edley said.
But it was student Mica Stumpf, a peace and conflict studies major, who asked the critical question. She said she’d been beaten by police Nov. 9, yet no campus official approached her in the aftermath. Only lawyers from the group By Any Means Necessary, which is suing campus officials and police over the incident, asked how she was doing.
Stumpf, who said she reluctantly joined the group’s lawsuit, then asked the two UC officials: “Do you have a policy on how you treat nonviolent protesters?”
Robinson said that such a policy was precisely what he and Edley had been asked to develop by UC President Mark Yudof.
“The key question is, How do you respond?” Robinson said. “If you respond.”
E-mail Nanette Asimov at email@example.com.
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