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Dear Chancellor Birgeneau, I Must Politely (and Non-Violently) Call Bullshit

November 10, 2011

Yesterday, students at UC Berkeley moved to occupy Sproul Plaza, protesting deep cuts to higher education in California, the resulting tuition increases and other issues. Students set up tents but, in the afternoon, riot police moved in to remove the tents. Students attempted to resist non-violently. The police beat them with batons and eventually were successful in removing the tents. It was an upsetting spectacle.

While the First Amendment does have its limits, this type of speech should be permitted. According to campus policy, tents are not allowed on campus, but the students were not harming others or acting illegally in other ways. Though minor inconveniences may have resulted, they did not outweigh the substantial interest of the campus community in allowing this large portion of its members to have their voices heard. If a large part of the student body decides that Sproul Plaza should be used for an encampment, that’s what it should be used for. The campus administration shouldn’t have ordered the police to remove the tents.

This is all aside from the manner in which the police acted when they removed the tents. As the video shows, the students were resisting non-violently. The use of batons was unjustified and, frankly, sickening.

So, what does Chancellor Birgeneau have to do with all this? Well, this afternoon C.B. sent out an email to the student body with the following Orwellism:

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.

Bull. Shit. If standing with fellow protestors isn’t non-violent, what is? If the police had not acted, there would have been no violence. The protestors didn’t cause any. I’d say that’s non-violent. An open letter to Chancellor Birgeneau calling for his resignation is circulating on Facebook. While I’d say that’s premature, I hope that Chancellor Birgeneau learns from yesterday and doesn’t repeat the same mistake in the coming days and weeks. Then it may be time for him to go.

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