Police Brutality Against CA Protesters for Higher Education

A UCLA student being tased last Wednesday for protesting the fee hikes.

From November 17-19, the University of California Board of Regents met to decide whether to raise University of California tuition 32%, to exceed $10,000 for the first time in history, including a $585 mid-year fee increase in January. They decided to approve both hikes, with Student Regent Jesse Bernal casting the only “No” vote.
On the front lines of the fight for public higher education in California, I have been part of a group of faculty, students, and union workers who are organizing against the cuts, which I wrote about on the day of our first system-wide walkout this year. When the UC Berkeley administration perceived unrest, the Chancellor sent out emails to redirect frustration away from administrators and Regents, and toward the California State Legislature. Yet students pushed back, first with the September 24 walkout, then with the November 18-20 strike, and now with the occupations sprouting up on campuses across the state.
Berkeley’s strike was advertised as three days of action: Walkout, Reclaim, and Escalate. There were tentative plans that if the Regents passed the fee increase, there would be a meeting to decide what “Escalate” means. Friday, it meant occupying Wheeler Hall, the largest lecture hall on campus, canceling 118 classes, pulling fire alarms across campus, and rerouting 3,800 students. The point where the action became less salient, however, was when negotiations ceased to focus around the demands of the students in the building, and began to concern their safety. Over a thousand students joined the picket lines and protest surrounding Wheeler Hall Friday, met by riot police and barricades.
Identifying as a cisgender white woman, I have lived with the privilege of relying on police for safety. Yet, last week, for the first time, I, and hundreds of other middle class students across the Universities of California saw police brutality. Thanks largely to my generation’s internet addiction, the videos and pictures of tasing, beating, and brutality went viral. J-Dilla’s “F— the Police” re-emerged as a student anthem. First to hit YouTube was a video of a UCLA police officer so intent on beating a student that he had to be restrained. Then, Yahoo posted a picture proving that UCPD’s denial of taser use was a lie. Throughout Friday, as UC Berkeley PD called in support from the Alameda County Sheriff’s department, the Berkeley PD, and Oakland PD, brutality videos continued to pour in.

This brutality is unacceptable, especially when student chants of “Whose University? Our university!,” “You’re sexy! You’re cute! Take off that riot suit!”, “Books, not batons,” “We’re not violent, how ’bout you?” and “Peaceful protest!” are met by riot police and violence. Students are acting out of desperation to stay in school, and education is a feminist issue. The protesters, occupiers, and outraged in California are no longer the all-white males of the Free Speech Movement of the 60’s. Present in the escalation planning for Berkeley were transfolk, undocumented students, undergraduate and graduate students, international students, students of color, men, and women, willing to put ourselves at risk to prevent the denial of education to thousands.
UC Ethnic Studies Professor Kevin Wayne delivered a speech at the 2009 Students of Color Conference at UC San Diego two weekends ago. First, he asked everyone to write down how they identify, and then explained the fee hikes. “If you wrote down “first-generation college student,” and the fee hikes pass, you can cross out “first” and write “last.”

To quote a homemade sign from the September 24 walkout, “UC me now- U won’t C me after 32%!”

Join the Conversation

  • blue

    Looking at this photo makes me sick to my stomach. I just got home from school after having an hour long conversation with my history teacher in which she explained to me that the budget cuts for public education in my state are so huge that she didn’t think she could make a living being a teacher.

  • blue

    *as* whoops

  • Comrade Kevin

    The larger issues at play are a state government so badly mismanaged for so long that draconian decisions like these were allowed to proceed.
    If you want my opinion, one might consider arranging the threat of mass transfers to other universities, particularly in other states.

  • iheartchai

    Im not surprised at the police brutality. Disgusted, but not surprised….
    You all have done an amazing job….nyc students that occupied New School and NYU are talking about how great your effort is and we’re supporting you all!

  • cattrack2

    As someone who went to UCLA and still has college debt hanging over their heads I sympathize, but as someone also from the projects I’m sorry but this is a complete overreaction.
    As Comrade said up above state gov’t in California is dysfunctional and has been mismanaged for a generation. If welfare moms, high school students, Medicaid kids, and Head Start children are being asked to put up w/ drastic cuts, college students as well should shoulder the burden. At least with college kids financing is a real option. You think welfare moms get to finance the milk, bread, beans & bologna they need to feed their kids? How do you think that Medicaid kid with the broken leg is going to get treatment paid for now? Heck, most LA high school students don’t even have their own textbooks.
    I very nearly went to Berkeley but seeing this makes me glad I didn’t. Your state gov’t was on the verge of bankruptcy not 6 mos ago…this protest strikes me as incredibly self centered.

  • CheA

    EXACTLY – Other big-name universities are recruiting professors from UCB. Students should start leaving en masse too. Without good students or good professors, Berkeley will be what? Other UC universities as well of course – I just speak as a Berkeley student.

  • Toongrrl

    After this, I don’t think I’ll be surprised at
    police tactics.

  • Sarah

    I agree with iheartchai, but I can’t help but feel sad about not being surprised at this nonsense. How did we get to a place where police brutality is somewhat routine?
    On topic: I know upstate New York thinks all the UC students are amazing for taking a stand. Keep on fighting the good fight :-)

  • drydock

    While I support this sort of action 100% and hope it builds and hope it spreads I found this comment both dismissive and instructive of what holds this kind of movement back.
    “The protesters, occupiers, and outraged in California are no longer the all-white males of the Free Speech Movement of the 60’s.”
    1. What helped sparked the left movements of the 60’s, which UCB students were a significant part of, was that students from poor and working class backgrounds gained unprecedented levels of access to higher education. Mario Savio probably the most well known leader of FSM was an Italian-American from a working class family. The fact that the FSM was mostly white (and it wasn’t all male male BTW) was that in 1964 California was over 90% percent white.
    2. The fact that students have aligned themselves with university workers is important. If they want to continue to build support among California’s working people, (the way to win the fight) the movement needs to put the issues in class terms and not the usual identity politics narrative that this post muddles in.
    PS Good luck, my young nephew from the Oakland flatlands wants to go to CAL, he’s counting on you.

  • allegra

    “There are some things money can’t buy.” Oh, wait, no, there aren’t, because fucking EVERYTHING, from your health and body to your education to your safety, is a fucking commodity to be bought so long as you’re rich enough.

  • allegra

    Uh, yeah, you know who’s NOT being asked to “put up with” drastic cuts? Corporate upper management, corporate shareholders, upper-level government officials, the wealthy white men who put us into this mess in the first place … not just in CA but in the whole country … shall I go on. All their asses are pretty safely protected.
    I know it’s nice to think of the recession as warranting some kind of cooperative, collective sacrifice, but that’s simply not how predatory capitalism works. We are not “all” being asked to sacrifice. Only some of us are being asked to sacrifice, and it’s the same among us who have already been sacrificing: students, the poor, women, non-whites. Try Naomi Klein’s _The Shock Doctrine_.

  • melissad884

    Thank you for this!

  • bbbf

    I am currently a student at UC Davis and for myself, as most (if not all) the students and faculty protesting against the fee hike and cuts, are pointing our fingers at the UC reagents and their mismanagement of the budget, not the state.
    Please, everyone, read this article:

  • Murray

    I was at the protest where that picture was taken – I remember an African American student being led away by a friend, but at the time I didn’t make the connection why, he didn’t have any visible injury, and I didn’t get why he needed someone to help him. I put two and two together a bit later – yes, the taser was used. I’m just surprised that someone got a picture of it.
    As far as these protests being self-centered… there isn’t much else we can do. The folks this fee increase will most affect are those already struggling to make ends meet, and we all know it won’t exactly do wonders for diversity. But to me at least, what we were protesting wasn’t that specific cut that, lets face it, we didn’t have much of a chance of stopping, but the idea that the UC system can be bailed out by the students who can least afford it. UC is supposed to be public. And in my humble hopes we were protesting UC’s attempt to solve its problems as if it was a private. So that maybe they’ll think twice next time.

  • Josh Jasper

    I dunno, how about they raise taxes on the rich. Tax soda (I dare you to claim soda is a necessity). Tax cigarettes. Raise luxury taxes a bit.
    Oh, and this isn’t a post about the increase in fees, it’s about police brutality. If you wan to play the “oh, they’re not bad off enough to complain” game (and you are), why should anyone give a shit about people in the US getting medicaid cuts when people in other countries are living in active war zones?
    So now you can stop complaining too. Or you can show some sensitivity to people trying to get an education who just had their legs cut out from under them.

  • bradley

    “Sin” taxes are some of the most regressive around. Taxing soda and cigarettes simply means that poor people will spend a larger portion of their income on soda and cigarettes. Meanwhile, a rich smoker doesn’t give a toss whether smokes are $5 a pack or $20. Enjoy your unintended consequences.

  • http://bostonprogressive.blogspot.com Craig R

    More and more the dream of low-and middle-income Americans for they and their children to get even a bachelor’s degree is being priced completely out of sight.
    University education will again be the almost exclusive province of the rich and connected.

  • Joan_Vollmer

    I think there is something disingenuous in the points made by UC Ethnic Studies Professor Kevin Wayne and many of the protesters. The tuition hikes are only going to affect students whose families make more than 70,000 a year. A hike of about 3,000 per year is still a lot for those families, but it is not something that will force students out of college. For a source on this you can read the following SF Chronicle article:
    ” ‘There will not be any students who won’t be able to afford a UC education,’ Yudof told reporters. ‘If someone slips through the cracks, send me an e-mail and we’ll take care of it.’
    He was referring to UC’s Blue and Gold program in which the university will pick up the entire tuition, excluding living and campus costs, for students whose families earn $70,000 or less and who qualify for other financial aid such as Cal Grants and federal Pell Grants”