Sunday, November 22, 2009

Student Eyewitness Accounts of UC Protests

From Los Angeles

Thursday November 19, 2009
Approximately 2:30pm – 5:30pm
University of California, Los Angeles
Covel Commons Parking Garage

From Los Angeles

At approximately 2pm on Thursday November 19, I joined a group of students moving from the protest rally in the courtyard of Covel Commons (which convened at noon), to peacefully protest the decision of the UC Regents by blocking the parking garage exits around the back. I was incredibly impressed by how organized the students were, as we were lead by a few student leaders with a megaphone who dispersed us to the various exits and instructed us to gather at the exit and to remain sitting at all times, in order to prevent any misunderstandings about that fact that this was a peaceful protest. I sat with these students singing protest songs and chanting for about an hour and a half, while many police officers formed a line behind a barricade at the exit behind us. At no point did the protestors get violent or aggressive, nor did the size of the crowd seem unmanageable. The student leaders with the megaphone continued to direct the protestors to stay seated and to show that this was a peaceful protest. As the police officers continued to line up behind us, the student leaders began announcing to the protestors that the police were not our enemies but our “brothers,” and not to direct any aggression towards them.

After about one hour, we had received a report from a number of students coming down the hill that that police officers were using pepper spray on another group of protestors up the hill from us (at the other garage exit), and that they were threatening to arrest us. At this point a significant group of students quickly stood up and left out of fear of being physically harmed or arrested, while a number of other students took their places. At this point, the student leaders with the megaphone announced that if the police began arresting us, we would first be given a warning at which point we had the option to leave, and that if we were told that we were under arrest, we were not to resist, but to calmly place both wrists in front of us. This announcement was made at least twice, emphasizing not to resist arrest, but to calmly place our wrists in front of us. One other student announced that if we were arrested, they would probably let us off that same day, but they could not guarantee anything.

After sitting a bit longer at this exit, I got up to get some water and join some friends in the courtyard at Covel Commons. When I arrived at the courtyard there was a large group of students surrounding a van and gathered in the courtyard, all standing peacefully, many chanting, many having conversations with each other. I was told by one of my friends that they had just been pepper sprayed a few minutes earlier. After going into the store in the courtyard to purchase some water, I came out to witness a female regent being escorted by police officers from the van into the building. While the protestors gathered around and followed the police officers and regent, chanting “shame on you” and other such chants. As the police quickly escorted the woman into the building, the protestors did not display any violent or threatening behavior, with the exception of one apple core I witnessed being thrown by someone in the crowd towards the police officers (but did not hit anyone).

After remaining in the courtyard for a while longer, I returned to the parking garage exit where I was initially sitting earlier and stood across from those sitting at the exit on the lawn (just a few feet away from the parking garage exit) behind a set of barricades. My friends (fellow graduate students) and I stood there for a long time (until approximately 4:30 pm) with our placards, and chanted with the students still sitting peacefully at the garage exit. Just as when I had left that area, all the protestors remained seated, displaying dissent by singing and chanting, while maintaining a peaceful atmosphere. After some time, however, I heard a number of taser guns being turned on, and saw the line of police officers advancing towards the student who were seated. I heard a student next to me say that the police were now threatening to use rubber bullets if the students did not move. Suddenly, many of the students in the exit stood up as I heard screaming and panicked yelling. I heard a number of students scream that the students were being tased. I heard the buzz of the taser guns, and I witnessed one student getting tased through the panicked crowd of students. The student I saw being tased was closest to the line of police officers and was sitting down when he began being tased, I saw that he was wearing an orange shirt and his arms were flailing as he was lying on the ground. I also witnessed a female police officer kick a male student in his side as he was seated. At no point did I see any students act violently or give cause for such an aggressive response, these students were being attacked by police officers as they were sitting down because they would not move. The scene was truly horrifying, and I was in complete shock at what I was seeing. I heard many of the students pleading with the officers to stop, yelling that this was a peaceful protest, and chanting, “We are students, Not enemies!” I saw many of the students crying and holding each other, many were my own students that I had had in previous classes that I taught. I remember hearing one of my own former female students yelling, “Can’t you understand, all we want is an education, put away your weapons!!” As the police officers pushed forward to clear the exit of the garage, they maintained their line facing the gathering of students who were now all standing up. I joined the protestors facing the line of police officers, as we chanted “We are students, not criminals!” and “We live here, you go home!” Many of the students moved nearby to the sidewalk of the road with their signs, as cars honked in support of the demonstration. At this point there seemed to be more police officers than students. The police officers continued to advance forward, pushing the protestors backwards down the hill. I witnessed one female student fall to the floor from the force of the police officers advancing, prompting students to yell back at the police to stop the pushing. As it began getting dark, I finally left the scene to go home, while many students remained there and continued to chant. The line of police officers also remained there and continued to advance down the hill, pushing the protestors, even though the garage exit was no longer blocked and all the regents had left.

From Los Angeles

On my way back from the protest, a bit before 3pm, I was walking down the road at the same moment that the UC regents' vans emerged from the underground parking lot under Covel Commons. A few students shouted, There are the regents! and a number of us (perhaps fifteen, there weren't many people there at that moment) began to shout, Shame on you! at the regents in the vans. There were students sitting peacefully in the middle of the road, and some police approached them and moved some of them out of the way at the same time, I believe, that the vans moved around them, because I had been standing behind the vans, and I remember the vans were not stuck there very long. After the vans drove down the road, the police were trying to move more people, a student called for everyone to sit, and then the next thing I know is I hear this clicking sound over and over again right in front of me, and I see that there are police officers standing over students, a bunch of students are screaming, and the clicking goes on. I hear a girl scream, He can't stand up, and the police officer say, Get up. I see a guy (the young black man from the photos) trying to stand up, a number of other people are helping him up, he is shaky and his legs are clearly weak because he has to lean on other students to get up. There is also a small Asian girl who is sobbing, and a student screams, This girl was tasered and this guy was tasered too! and a bunch of students standing around are shocked, upset, a couple people are crying, and the police begin retreating backwards, still facing the students, up the hill. Then a student jumps in the middle of the road and begins screaming some kind of chant, and a bunch of other people, angry, respond.

The young black student who was tased from the images was holding his right hand over his heart and sobbing, and then holding the Asian girl who was also crying. The guy seemed very shaky, and I went over to them and asked the guy (I believe his name, from the caption of those photos, is Rusty/Rustin O'Neill) where he had been tasered, and he said a bunch of times, maybe four or five times or more, over his heart, which still hurt. A CNN article mentions a training bulletin from the taser company that explicitly states that tasing on the chest is prohibited, and officers who do it will be in risk of a lawsuit, given the danger of doing such a thing and on the grounds of excessive force. I looked at the girl's arms and they were all red and there were almost welts rising from the officer's manhandling of her. She said she received one taser shock on her left arm, around the elbow crook. The friend I was standing with had videotaped the whole thing on his camera and gave the two of them his information, and I suggested they both go to the hospital. Shortly after this, a police car drove up the road, and, seeing the bunch of students in the road, put on his lights and said, over the intercom, to get out of the road. At this point however, students were so irate and so shocked by the brutality they just witnessed that there was a kind of reckless tension in the air-- they sat down and shouted at the police car in anger. The police car retreated down the road the way it had arrived.

From Berkeley


I understand that you are each undertaking reviews of the police action on UC Berkeley's campus on Friday. I write to you as a witness. At around 1:30 pm on Friday, I was among the students at the Southwest corner of Wheeler Hall. The police (including Ryobi, Wong, and Parnelle of UCPD and Jackson of Berkeley PD) engaged us in a tense standoff.

Officer Jackson introduced himself and shook hands with the student next to me. He said that we should all get to know each other "in case we have to get intimate later." At the point he smiled menacingly and tapped his baton.

The police told us to move backward. They did not say that we were illegally assembled. They merely said, "Move." We refused to move. All present were non-violent. I very consciously kept my hands down at my sides, even as the officers I named above approached us with their batons ready.

They began to jab at us and then to strike us with their batons. We did not fight them. We moved neither toward them nor away. To my right was a student being brutally beaten by officer Parnelle. To my left, a student beaten by officer Jackson. Officer Wong repeatedly struck me with his baton. Another officer, whose name I did not catch, grabbed the others by their collars and pulled them away from us.

We did not follow them nor strike out at them. We clearly posed them no threat.

Thank you very much for your work in both of your investigations. I will be filing a complaint with UCPD against Officer Wong. If there is anything else I can do to aid your investigations, please let me know.

From Berkeley

My name is Tony Bezsylko. I am a graduate student in the Department of Philosophy at UC Berkeley, a member of UAW Local 2865 and a member of the Graduate Student Organizing Committee.

I have been involved in the political actions on campus this term, including Friday's action. My reasons for being involved in these actions all have to do with my concern for public education, and my reasons for directing these actions towards UC administration have to do with the fact that the administration is not aligning themselves strongly enough with interests of public education. The short of it is that we, and I think that I safely speak for all of us, want you and the rest of UC administration helping us to organize a movement to save public education. We want you at the rallies, we want you on the picket lines, we want you walking with us at the marches. I, however, do not write to you now about these matters. I write to you now to tell you about the nature of the police's response, as well as your response, to Friday's action.

On Friday I was a victim of and a witness to countless acts of police brutality. Those of us outside of Wheeler Hall were upset, but we were completely committed to a peaceful protest (saying so much explicitly in our chants and implicitly by sitting down on the line). The police, and you, were completely oblivious to the commitment of everyone involved, including those inside Wheeler, to a peaceful action. The occupation, though indeed aggressive, was an act of civil, nonviolent disobedience.

Now I understand that it was a chaotic situation, and I understand that the police involved were nervous and frightened. But their actions were grossly disproportionate in degree of aggression compared to that of our actions.

The worst incident I experienced was on the southeast side of Wheeler Hall. We were holding our line, locked in arms, in some places a few people deep. There were extremely thin parts of our line where police could have stepped through very easily by gently moving us aside. They chose not to do this. They chose to barrel their way through one of the thicker parts of the line using batons against stationary, unarmed students. Once this happened there was panic everywhere. I, and everyone around me, was all of a sudden being struck in the back and being attacked from the front by police. I saw one protester on the ground beaten by two police officers. Some folks standing right next to him pulled him up so he could run away before sustaining any more injuries.

I could go on for many paragraphs detailing what I saw and what trusted friends told me they saw. If you have not seen the video footage of some of these incidents, I encourage you to watch it. These actions by the police in response to a peaceful protest were extremely ugly. And not only was your approval of these actions equally ugly, so was your post-protest statement that the "wheeler hall protest ended peacefully" and that "a few members of our campus community may have found themselves in conflict with law enforcement officers." We are very grateful that all of the occupiers were not hurt, but it is a straightforward lie to say that the day's action ended peacefully. My account in the paragraph above shows this much. That account also refutes the second quote from your email. It was not a "a few members of our campus community" who were physically harmed. It was quite likely somewhere around 100 members of our campus community who were physically harmed by police, and, really, by you and your decisions about how to handle the situation. Lastly, my account also refutes your characterization of what happened as finding oneself "in conflict with law enforcement officers." Conflict can of course mean any number of things. The kind of conflict that was taking place was violent conflict involving physical harm.

I demand that you immediately issue a new statement about these extremely important issues. Trying to brush them under the rug as you are doing is not going to do anything but deepen the rift between UC administration and the rest of the university, including faculty, graduate students, undergraduate students, and staff. Acknowledgment is the first step to dealing with every conflict. This is something that you have failed to pay attention to in both your dealings with Friday's action as well as with the current crisis in public education.

Tony Bezsylko

From Berkeley

I am writing in regards to my experience Friday November 20th as a student observer outside Wheeler Hall. I was horrified as I watched the police using excessive force on students. One particular incident I observed at very close proximity occurred on the East side of Wheeler Hall around 5:00 pm.

I had been present since about 11:00 am on the West side of the building-standing along with fellow graduate students and many undergraduates who I teach as a Graduate Student Instructor. I did not observe any acts of student aggression- we spent many hours standing, chanting and signing, keeping each other dry from the rain, and sharing food and coffee.

Around 5:00 I moved locations to the east side of Wheeler. I soon learned that a colleague in my doctoral program had been knocked to the ground and dragged by an officer, completely unprovoked. I stood next to her listening to the story when officers in riot gear began to head towards us. Although there were many open areas for the new police shift to enter, they chose to enter directly through the crowd of students. Without any warning or explanation, a group of police dressed in full riot gear, flaunting batons and rubber bullet guns, headed straight at where I was standing. Things became a violent blur as I heard students screaming and I saw the student next to me hit by an officer with a baton. I ran from the scene as soon as I could get out, terrified that my friends had been attacked or hurt. Soon after, I left campus, literally shaking from anxiety. It was one of the most violet moments of my life.

As a student and graduate student teacher I was deeply concerned for the safety of those around me- as the police presence only heightened any threat to student safety on campus and by no means provided protection or peace for us. I truly hope that the university administration takes these unprovoked acts of violence performed on students by officers seriously, and respond differently in the future to non-violent demonstrations on campus. Thank you for your time and attention.

From Berkeley

I am a third year student at UCB, and I was actively present in the solidarity protests around Wheeler Hall on Friday. I spent most of my time predominantly on the North East side of Wheeler. I witnessed and was the victim of the excessive use of force by both UCPD and Berkeley PD. At about 5 o¹clock I was in the front row of a large mass of arm-linked students standing in solidarity with the occupation. The cops repeatedly looked at me and other students and warned us not to move forward otherwise we would be beaten by the batons. So we did not move. Regardless however, a little later on the cops did choose to beat in the process of putting up another barricade between us and public space. They started to hit students. Since I was in the front, I took a huge brunt of the blows- to my arms, ribs, belly, and hands. I was pushed to the ground as students were falling on top of me. I covered my head. Cops were continuing to hit students over me. They would not stop. Eventually a student managed to help pull me up at which time I retreated a bit and let other students move forward. The hitting continued. I also witnessed another injury occur earlier on while blocking a truck bringing barricades to the NE side of Wheeler. Students linked arms around the truck. A cop tried to break through the arms of two people. A girl started screaming that the cop was crushing her fingers or hand. In the same confrontation, about 7 cops broke through solidarity lines outside the yellow caution lines and dragged some students into the 똠op¹ area and started to beat them while they were on the ground defenseless. What I witnessed on Friday was nonviolent students standing in solidarity (on supposedly public space) and in turn being abused and violated by cops from both UCPD and Berkeley PD. This certainly was not the appropriate application of force as the students were always non-violent. Claims that cops and barricades were necessary to control the crowd and discourage violence are inadequate and do not fully acknowledge the Manichean violence upon students taken by the police forces. This is unacceptable, and should be publicly acknowledged and interrogated and exposed for what they really were.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is maureen, I wrote the above account of the tasering at UCLA, under Student Eyewitness Accounts of UC Protests from Los Angeles. The images I refer to can be found here: