Berkeley protests

Yesterday an OWS-affiliated (whatever that actually means) crowd tried to occupy what functions as a quad at Berkeley, with tents in which to stay a while.  Campus police and Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies arrived in armor looking like Darth Vaders, cleared the tents away by force, pulled down signs, and brutalized a bunch of students and faculty.  Getting jabbed with the end of a police baton held in two hands is not a nudge, as the AP inexcusably described it, and neither is getting grabbed by the hair and thrown to the ground for convenient placement of handcuffs.   Brutalized is the word, though the police have lately been trained to injure people in ways that don’t show in TV interviews (no bleeding scalps or bloody noses! no broken long bones: cracked ribs hurt plenty, and we don’t want pictures of victims in hospital beds or casts).  There were 39 arrests, including a professor and 22 students.  Some of the videos I watched last night and this morning have been taken down by YouTube, but there are several here that will make you sick.

Our chancellor, who is here responsible for an episode that is totally inept as both leadership and public relations, has had the remarkable good fortune of being able to hide behind his opposite number at Penn State all week (and do our students ever look better than theirs).  He circulated a letter to everyone yesterday that may reach a new high in official cowardice and mendacity (but note exception below). It presents a stupefyingly lame justification for the “no encampments” order he issued, and blandly identifies standing unarmed in a row with arms linked – you remember, the way MLK and the freedom riders did – as “not non-violent”.  Then he adds the truly incredible “we regret all injuries, to protestors and police, that resulted from this effort.”  Injuries to police? Excuse me: AFAIK there were no injuries to police: the police, as Chili Palmer says, were the ones inflicting the pain, period. And finally, we get the inevitable, scurrilous passive voice diffusion of responsibility into thin air, “the police were forced to use their batons to enforce the policy.”

I have never been completely comfortable with the California campus protests of the last couple of years.

First, I wish they were directed to all the outrageous injury Republicans in California have inflicted on the whole state, from abused women to kids in school to convicts jammed into nearly medieval prisons, and less focused on the hit to student pocketbooks and faculty paychecks from budget cuts.  More funding for public higher education is a legitimate goal on public policy grounds, and it’s fair for people to strike for more pay, or to demonstrate for street repairs in their own neighborhood.  Still, it would look less self-serving if it weren’t coming from here, certainly if it weren’t the primary element of the protestors’ discourse.  Bad as things are in our colleges and universities, a lot of people in California are hurting a lot more than we are, and we should be their advocates before being ours. Unemployment in California is a brutal 12%, but my dear students, it’s only a third of that for college graduates, what all of you will be.

Tactically, I do not understand targeting the Regents, as though they appropriate state funds. Let’s be clear about this: the devastation of the public sector in California in the current era comes from Republicans.  Not “the legislature”, not “political gridlock”, not “partisanship”: Republicans, in county government, in the legislature, and in the governor’s office, playing out the self-mutilation voters (but especially Republican voters) have inflicted by initiative legislation.  It is not non-partisan and it is not on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand: the Republican Party in California, and only the Republican party, has become the party of greed, ignorance, and smirking insensitivity to the pain of the poor and the welfare of our children and grandchildren. We would do better with Regents less exclusively chosen from the comfortable and well-fixed, and with better leadership at the university and campus level, but the outrage, marches, and demonstrations should be partisan, and target the place whence the evil comes, not the conveyor belt that delivers it to campus .

I’m not clear about the limits of police rights to beat and arrest unarmed people, who pose no imminent threat of injury to persons or property, just because they are disobeying an order to disperse.  Can a cop just order you to go anywhere any time, and enforce his instructions by force?

Incidentally, some of my colleagues and some students also seem to be a little unclear about what civil disobedience really means.  It does not mean you have a right to violate the law and not be punished for it just because you are motivated by a principle or a strongly felt desire; it means (and the chancellor did get this right) you are willing to be punished according to the law for the violation (and when things get especially ugly, to be injured without fighting back) in order to focus moral force on the oppressors.  In fact, this is what a lot of the protestors at Sproul did: the prof who was arrested put her arms out for cuffs and said “arrest me!” but apparently the opportunity to practice the hair-pull-throw-to-the-ground-and-drag on a woman who seems, in the video, to weigh fully half as much as each of the cops pulling her around, was irresistible. (I watched this video before it was taken down; I hope it reappears at some point, [update: it’s in this article] and I hope the Alameda Sheriff uses it for some attitude adjustment among his officers. They sure looked like a bunch of thugs yesterday.)


Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

26 thoughts on “Berkeley protests”

  1. Here’s the text of an email Berkeley Law students received the night of the protest… The police were instructed to “stop anyone carrying large signs, banners…” This is likely true, as at least a couple Berkeley Law students were harassed by officers as they were returning from the protest.

    UCPD officers have told us that they are under orders to stop anyone carrying large signs, banners, bullhorns or other amplification devices on campus property. Officers have been monitoring the area in front of the Law School that adjoins Kroeber plaza. If you are carrying signs, banners, bullhorns, or other amplification devices you will likely be stopped by UCPD and asked to produce identification. There have been some confrontational incidents in the last couple of hours that demonstrate that the officers expect immediate compliance with their request for ID. While we do not understand UCPD’s position on this issue, we cannot control or direct UCPD’s behavior and we are concerned for your safety and well being. It might, therefore, be wisest to avoid the west end of the building for now, if you can do so. Instead come into the law school through the EAST cafe door.

  2. Cal is my alma mater. I’ve lived in the bay area ever since. It doesn’t surprise me that the campus has such doublespeak. My presumption is that torture apologist John Yu, still on staff, is guiding the chancellor in these matters. (I have chosen not to give at all to Cal until he is no longer on staff, and advise the alumni org so every time they send me mail.)

    I am sure the OPD or campus police would have tasered Rosa Parks for not giving up her seat. As for arrest, MLK’s ‘knowingly, lovingly breaking unjust laws’ in letter from a Birmingham jail should be required reading all around.

    I am not necessarily supportive of everything occupy oakland is dong, but it is because my fellow citizens were teargassed that I rode my bike to the port in the general strike. If berkeley strikes, I’ll be there too.

    I don’t know what can be done, but I know I would do what it took to prevent non-violent tactics to be portrayed as the opposite. Why am I living in 1984? I thought the future was gonna be awesome.

  3. I can’t understand why a video like this doesn’t attract wider attention. There is nothing apparent in the clip which would require a forceful response much less the brutal tactics actually being employed. If the police involved were in Egypt or Syria there is no way we would consider this acceptable behavior.

  4. I have to disagree with one point made on the post. You can’t expect anybody to take great risks for another person’s cause. I can’t blame the students for focusing on their own problems, rather than those of Californians in general. The genius of the “we are the 99%” slogan is that it makes OWS almost everybody’s cause.

    Of course, it’s not always obvious when a cause is another person’s. I’m still convinced that the very heavy Jewish involvement in the postwar civil rights movement came about because most American Jews were convinced that they were #2 on the haters’ list, so it was in the Jewish interest to fight on behalf of black folk, who were the clear #1.

  5. I can’t understand why the OWS encampments having rape and murder problems, epidemic disease, and so forth, doesn’t attract wider attention. I’ve been to plenty of “extreme right-wing” protests, conducted by people you’d probably think one step (If that!) better than terrorists, and we really did leave the places cleaner than when we came. Even if the media cameras avoided the normal looking people, and women with babes in arms, to focus on the lone guy in cammo who hadn’t bathed in a week.

    Ok, I guess I can understand it; The media focus has been exactly reversed for OWS, the cameras carefully avoiding the squalor. But at this point, with the record OWS has racked up at it’s “encampments”, I will not blame a college administrator for treating anybody who tries to set up an “encampment” like a franchise of the Mongol horde. The left decided to demonstrate that they could do the Tea party one better, and only demonstrated their basic lack of civilization.

    Now, the violence with which he prevented it? Some blame attaches there, but it’s not *my* side that runs the college campuses, now, is it?

  6. Yeah, right, pointing out anything you’d rather people ignore is somehow wrong.

    Potemkin tent villages where 90% of the tents are empty. Women being raped, and told not to report it. Epidemic diseases like TB taking hold. Failures of basic sanitation. Robbery, even murder. No, the OWS protests are not covering the left in glory, even with the media doing their best to cover for you. Quite the opposite.

    No, I don’t blame Berkly one bit for refusing to permit OWS affiliated encampments.

  7. Please share with us your evidence of actual “rape and murder problems” and “epidemics” occurring at OWS encampments, Brett. A few discrete anecdotes from Drudge will not make your case.

  8. identifies standing unarmed in a row with arms linked – you remember, the way MLK and the freedom riders did – as “not non-violent”.

    That’s definitely a felony if it’s part of an anti-abortion protest.

  9. Can´t resist two historical corrections.
    Mike: ¨… convicts jammed into nearly medieval prisons…¨ Mediaeval justice demanded swift, public and frequently gruesome punishment. Basically people were imprisoned briefly before trial, then hanged, flogged or freed. A tiny number of high status offenders, hostages or troublemakers were imprisoned for longer periods, like Charles of Orleans held in some comfort in the Tower of London as a hostage for 24 years. Mass imprisonment, retribution camouflaged as reeducation, is a modern (>1800) phenomenon. Read your Foucault.

    Brett: ¨I will not blame a college administrator for treating anybody who tries to set up an “encampment” like a franchise of the Mongol horde.¨ The Mongols did not conquer and destroy half of Eurasia by being undisciplined. A Mongol army used fluid tactics, incomprehensible to the feudal armies of Europe which they easily crushed when they met them. As well accuse an SS Panzer division of being disorganized.

    1. My hat is off to you, sir. The influence of bad history has spread far and wide! Personally, I think the Mongol hordes would’ve made exceptional protesters; hardy individuals who could live on very little and act with great unity posed a great threat to the western powers of the day.

  10. Best way to kill the legit and peaceful OWS is to turn it into something violent. That’s how you get the American people to turn away in disgust.

    Karl Rove’s TV spot attacking Elizabeth Warren says, “. . . Elizabeth Warren sides with extreme left protests. AT OCCUPY WALL STREET, PROTESTERS ATTACK POLICE, do drugs, and trash public parks. . . “

    1. Brett,
      I suffer from the disadvantage of getting most of my information from dropping by OWS about once a week, and don’t have the clarity of vision provided by wingnut sources. I’ve seen a bit of a homeless problem, but no Potemkin tents. Rape is not going to happen much among a lot of people living cheek by jowl, unless you believe that OWS encampments have the sociology of prison. (I suppose you would.) Epidemic diseases are almost surely there–the common cold, I believe, affects protestors pretty much the same as everybody else. But the tuberculosis cited in your fine wingnut source can’t “break out,” unless hippy tuberculosis is far more infectious than the kind that the rest of us get.
      You are sometimes capable of critical thought, especially of the abstract variety. But you seem pretty gullible about the news you abuse.

    2. American Thinker is written and read by morons. Case in point. Not a reliable source for anything but propaganda.

    3. At least according to the original article (, it seems likely that the TB cases were picked up in a local prison and the authorities were worried about it spreading to, rather than from, the protestors. And it sounds as if they’ve been forced to move to the homeless shelter where the cases were discovered, so if they had been left alone at their original encampment, there would not be a problem.

      Not sure about the empty tents in London, but that’s certainly not the case in New York. Also, sounds like the facts are rather disputed ( and that the thermal images may be misleading.

      Lastly, the final link seems to be to a compilation of a variety of complaints from stealing toilet paper to sexual assault. While it certainly seems there has been some assaults, they don’t appear to particularly common. Also, the groups should definitely report the crimes to the police and not encourage victims to stay quiet. However, given how confrontation the police have been, it’s understandable. Would you report a crime to a group that has just pepper sprayed you?

    4. Another fairly balanced article:

      Are the protestors providing an environment in which bad actors (homeless, exhibitionists) can get away with minor crimes? Yes.

      In general, are the protestors non-violent, civil, and working to keep things as clean, calm, and organized as possible? Yes.

      Do the police have a confrontational and negative outlook on the protestors? Yes.

    5. “I was at militia movement protests in the early 90′s. If we had pulled”

      I highlight the word ‘we’.

      1. Why bother highlighting it? Yes, I was involved with the militia movement in the early ’90s, and am unashamed about it, as I was involved in the real militia movement, not the one that lives in your head.

        My point here is simply that we, (Yes, “We”) who you doubtless despised then and now, were capable of what you seem to think the OWS movement of course can’t accomplish: Holding peaceful protests, and not leaving a mess. And in the face of a heck of a lot more official hostility than OWS has faced to date. I’ve protested with police snipers staring down at me from roof tops. Have you?

        The squalor of the OWS encampments is not inevitable, it is a commentary on the people running and participating in them. Had you a more introspective nature, you might ask why the ‘right’ can hold peaceful, clean, protests, and the ‘left’ can’t.

    1. Bloody hell Brett, are you able to think before you type?

      If 3 and 2, then 1 is inevitable. E.g. in situations (LA, SF) where the political class (and subsequently the police) treat the OWS protestors as what they are – citizens exercising their constitutional rights, there are far, far fewer incidents of 1.

      You, Brett Bellmore, are part of the problem. You defend the very individuals (corporations?) who have looted our great nation, and you belittle the individuals (actual people) who risk their freedom to earn it again. So far as your *patriot* movement creds: It is a simple fact that not all tyranny is governmental: in fact, most is economic. By definition, a privately owned business is not democratic. Governments exist to regulate private enterprise so as to establish the ‘playing field’ and make sure it is (at least somewhat) level.

      Read up a little history on the original tea party before you claim them as your own. These protestors were violent, they destroyed property as a means of protesting the corruption of (corrupt) government sanctioned monopolistic capitalism. It is as Edmund Burke (British Royalist and tea party favorite) once wrote: Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

  11. “Civil disobedience really means … you are willing to be punished according to the law for the violation (and when things get especially ugly, to be injured without fighting back) in order to focus moral force on the oppressors.”

    Partly incomplete, partly wrong.

    Civil disobedience can indeed carry the intent to suffer at law to bring moral pressure on the oppressor. However, it can also be undertaken for the purpose of challenging the law being broken, intending ultimately not to suffer legal consequences by virtue of having courts declare the law invalid. (For example, many of the sit-ins in the civil rights era and some acts of draft resistance during Vietnam had precisely that goal.) It can also be undertaken strictly as an act of moral conscience; the “here I stand, I can do no other” idea. (Yes, I know it appears that Martin Luther never actually said that; it doesn’t change the point.)

    I realize that it may seem that in the situation at hand, that first description is the most applicable but I’d say the third is as well. Regardless, the definition you offered of CD was still incomplete.

    Where you were wrong was in the phrase about being willing “to be injured without fighting back.” Civil disobedience and nonviolence are not the same thing. A given act can easily be both, but an act of civil disobedience does not cease to be such if, for example, one was to fight back when physically attacked.

    As a last note, please don’t anyone read any advocacy of a stance for or against nonviolence or violence as part of civil disobedience into this. I have my own convictions on the matter but I can guarantee you they can’t be determined from the above. So please don’t presume.

  12. I haven’t been around universities in many years. Are students required to waive their civil rights in order to attend these days?

    It seems that corporations and the authorities are becoming the ONLY acknowledged citizens. Our country is in a grave situation.

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