Friday, November 18, 2011

Nicole Lindhal Eyewitness Account of Police Attack on Occupy Cal November 9th

Dear friends, family, and colleagues,

For many of you it has been a long time since we were last in contact;
I wish that I was writing now in order to set up a long overdue
conversation, or to fill you in on happy developments in my life.
Instead, I am writing because I feel compelled to give you a first
hand account of some disturbing events which occurred on the UC
Berkeley campus this week.

This Wednesday, November 9, UC Berkeley students staged a rally and
march with the goals of protesting a proposed 81% fee hike and drawing
attention to the increasing fiscal crisis facing public education in
California.  After the march, students held a General Assembly meeting
in which they formed a consensus to build an encampment (a la Occupy
Wall Street) on Sproul Plaza.  Students made this decision with full
awareness that, earlier in the week, the UC Berkeley Chancellor had
issued a letter stating that camping constituted a violation of the
campus code.

Shortly after the tents were pitched, while students were playing
music on guitars, painting signs, and chit-chatting in true UC
Berkeley fashion, police forces began gathering.  What ensued was
nothing less than two separate police attacks on non-violent student
protesters.  Two police forces (UCPD and the Alameda County Sheriff's
Department) and hundreds of police officers in full riot gear advanced
on students who had linked arms to form a human barricade around the
tents.  The riot police formed a line with batons drawn, held in both
hands across their bodies, and they moved forward as a block, jabbing
the batons towards the line of students in unison.  Behind them were
several officers holding automatic weapons that looked like something
out of Grand Theft Auto--tear gas launchers? rubber bullet
guns?--which they sometimes pointed directly at students' heads and
bodies.

I witnessed a young woman on the ground being repeatedly attacked with
the end of a baton by a police lieutenant from the Alameda County
Sheriff's department.  I saw two young men get tackled and arrested,
one as a tactic to break the line of locked-armed students, and the
other for trying to pick up a tent pole.  I also saw two young women
get their hands stamped on by a policeman's boot when they tried to
pick up a bike light in between our line and the officers'.  And this
was just in my small corner of the first and less intense standoff.

In the second, the police forces were more aggressive, and many
officers (as opposed to only a few in the earlier event), were--for
lack of a better word--rabid.  They repeatedly attacked students with
batons with ZERO provocation.  In total, 39 people were arrested in
both confrontations, and many more were beaten, including two students
in a class I am currently teaching and a fellow graduate student from
my department.

I was fortunate enough to escape these events with only minor scrapes
and bruises.  I am shaken, however, and more angry than perhaps I've
even been in my life.  On Thursday morning, I had visions of booting
police officers in the face while I was in the shower.  For the rest
of the day, I intermittently cried and swelled with outrage.  When I
saw police officers on Sproul plaza standing around in small groups, I
literally could not raise my eyes to look at them.  Predictably
enough, I have been completely mobilized into action by Wednesday's
events, as have thousands of students and community members who have
been shocked and outraged by the videos they've seen (see below this
message for links to a few videos I hope you take the time time to
check out).

I am incredibly proud of Cal students who courageously held the line
and remained completely peaceful throughout the day and night.  We
continuously shouted "peaceful! protest!" particularly when the police
were acting most aggressively.  There was not a rock or bottle thrown,
and the chants consistently demonstrated empathy with or at least
respect for the humanity of the police ("We're doing this for your
children!" or "Stop beating students!" or "You are the 99%!").

The larger point here is that we live in a society in which this type
of police use of force is entirely normalized.  It is expected, and in
fact justified, that the roll-out of police in riot gear is the first
response to non-violent student protesters. I mean, the students were
violating the law, right?  They should have known that this is what
they would get.  What did they expect?

I ask instead, in what world are militarized riot police an
appropriate response to students with tents?????  And I challenge you
(and all of us) to think through what Wednesday afternoon might have
looked like if the use of force was OFF THE TABLE.

In the aftermath of these events, I had the urge to ask the Chancellor
to articulate the threat that the encampment posed that justified the
kind of response we saw on Wednesday.  And in fact, he issued a letter
to the campus community doing just that on Thursday.  It turns out,
while he supports marches and rallies as forms of protest, encampments
pose a threat to sanitation and hygiene, and he is worried about the
campus administration's ability to manage conflicts arising within
(Needless to say, I, too, am worried about the administration's
ability to manage conflict after Wednesday's events, but I digress).

I would argue that this standoff is not about hygiene, sanitation, or
conflict management; nor is it simply about a few students with tents,
as those of us who are sympathetic to the protests have argued.  This
is about establishing a space within which dialogue across divisions
of race, class, gender, religion, and ideology is encouraged,
facilitated, and prioritized; within which any and all participants
are provided the consistent opportunity to give voice to their ideas
and concerns about the nature of the society they live in; a space in
which the creativity and imagination necessary to visualize inclusive
and egalitarian political, economic, and social systems are nurtured;
a space in which I, for one, feel like I can participate without
making ethical compromises.  THIS is the threat that these encampments
represent.  And this is also the reason that so many students,
including me, are willing to defend their construction with our
bodies.

With much love and, for the first time in my life, real hope for a
better future,

Nicole


Videos:
This site contains a video from the afternoon attack which has gone
viral, and a photo of the plaza an hour or so after the second attack,
when even more students gathered and held the second general assembly
meeting of the day (in which they formed a consensus to call for a
UC-wide strike on Tuesday, November 15):

This is a video from the first attack which I uploaded from the camera
on my phone.  This advance occurred after the police had already torn
down the encampment, and resulted in them reclaiming a few feet of
dirt. It doesn't capture police beatings in as clear detail as the
previous video, but it gives you an up close and personal sense of the
atmosphere among the student protesters as well as what it was like to
be standing peacefully in a line, only to be advanced upon by a row of
riot police:

This video was taken by a stranger who was in a very similar position
to me during the clash in the evening.  Since it's not clear, let me
remind you that students were gathered on the lawn distributing food
and hanging out before the police officers moved into formation and
formed the line you see here (in other words, the students did not
approach a line of riot cops, but rather were approached while
peacefully assembling).  Whoever took this video got a much better
angle on the events that I was witnessing than I did with my camera
phone:

For more, search for "Occupy Cal" on YouTube.

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