The last few days at UC Berkeley has been an educational and emotional journey for many of us. On Wednesday we witnessed a sadly violent police response to a peaceful and orderly student protest against the skewed economic policies that have dominated our society for the past several decades. If you are in doubt about whether the police response was justified, take a look at these pictures. Notice the cop first looking around to see if he can identify any cameras – then attacking when he decides that there are no cameras following him. Unbelievable. Students and postdocs from our group have gone to the protests and have witnessed some of this themselves. You can read more about their experiences here.
Friday we heard the response from our chancellor, Birgeneau: “It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents. This is not non-violent civil disobedience.”
Apparently our chancellor believes holding hands is a criminal offense that should be punished with a good beating.
Now these events are all incredibly sad. But there are also some shining lights of hope in this story. First, I am amazed at the discipline and dedication shown by the students. Faced with a violent response by the police, not a single one of them decided to respond with violence in return. It is truly remarkable. They set an example for us all and give me a lot of hope for the future.
Secondly, the response I have heard from faculty, staff, and students so far has been overwhelming in its dedication to try make this right. Our community is really coming together over this. It is heartening to see such a strong unanimous response.
Birgeneau may end up regretting blaming the students for the violence, instead of using these events as an opportunity to bring the UC Berkeley community together. I wonder if he will be surprised next week to witness more reprehensible holding of hands at the UC Berkeley campus – this time with faculty and staff joining hands with the students. Birgeneau lost our confidence with his response this past week. The next weeks will tell us if there still is a role at UC berkeley for a chancellor who endorses police violence against his own students.