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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Is UC Attempting to Criminalize Dissent?

The release of the  "Reynoso Report" analyzing the use of pepper spray at UC Davis with its attached Kroll report demonstrates the need to consider the question:  Is UC attempting to criminalize dissent?  The Reynoso Report (it will take some time to work through the Kroll report as well) is unsparing in its conclusion that the use of Pepper Spray at UC Davis on Friday afternoon, November 18th was unnecessary, irrational, and without clear legal justification.  Indeed, the report questions the entire rush to judgment that led to the attempt to remove the tents themselves. (7-9)

The report also makes it clear that responsibility begins with Chancellor Katehi.  Katehi not only pushed to have the tents removed but failed to communicate clearly her intentions about how it should be done.  But the responsibility was not hers alone.  It continues through her Vice-Chancellors who failed to incorporate and make clear all the evidence about the protests that they were provided with, onto the Chief of Police who failed to organize the police action sufficiently or to explain to the higher administration all of the reasons why moving on the tents might be a bad idea, and concludes with the specific officers on the ground whose use of pepper spray was not only inappropriate but in violation of regulations.  The effects of these decisions on free speech at Davis cannot be underestimated.  As the ACLU notes in its own analysis of the Task Force Report: "When the cost of speech is a shot of blinding, burning pepper spray in the face, speech is not free."

It is difficult to see how the upper administration can continue to claim moral authority over the campus although given the vagueness of the recommendations (29-32) it is unclear what repercussions there will be for the administration. While laudably calling upon the upper administration to develop--in collaboration with the campus community--a widespread set of understandings about the importance of protests and the ways to ensure that campus safety takes precedence over the administrative will to campus order, the recommendations tend towards the bureaucratic.  That is to say, in keeping with a large amount of the report, the recommendations are about the techniques of policing rather than their purpose.

The emphasis on the techniques of policing, while perhaps understandable given the Task Force's charge (5), raises a larger question concerning UC's larger response to protests on campus and at Regents' meetings.  Two things stand out:  first, the Reynoso Task Force indicates that they did not investigate communication between UCOP and the UCD administration. (6)  There is, as far as I know, no effort underway to determine what role if any UCOP has played in responses to protest both on different campuses and at Regents' meetings (other than the fact that President Yudof had a conference call to Chancellor's last fall).  This enigma takes on greater importance when we look more closely at the reasoning behind the Davis actions in the light of the larger questions of policing across the UC system.

As the Reynoso Task Force Report emphasizes, the Katehi administration moved so precipitously and forcefully against the peaceful encampment because of their fear of the larger Occupy movement (especially in Oakland) and their anxieties that they might lose control of the campus if the urban Occupy movement successfully coalesced with campus protests:

When tents went up on the Quad on Nov. 17, the longstanding protest against high and rising tuition and fees in the UC found expression through the tactics of the national Occupy movement. Campus administrators focused on the relation of this event to other Occupy movement encampments. Political demonstrations are not uncommon at Davis and the Quad occupies a unique status as the traditional location where protests occur. It is a central and highly visible location which makes it an ideal location for speakers to reach the audience they are addressing, the university community. It is also a location where robust expressive activity can occur without unreasonably interfering with the University’s ability to perform its duties of teaching and research or unduly burdening the interests of non-protesting students, staff, and faculty. The administration did not consider the Occupy movement encampment to be a conventional campus protest. The Leadership Team appeared to perceive it as a vehicle through which non-affiliates might enter the campus and endanger students. (11)
As the Report indicates, the Chancellor and her inner circle were so afraid of these "non-affiliates" that they ignored reports from Student Affairs that in fact the protesters were students and faculty.  Nor did they consider the possibility that if safety was truly the issue they might use the UCDPD to ensure the protesters safety rather than to remove them.  Indeed, as the Task Force indicates, the Student Affairs officials were correct and Katehi's inner circle was wrong (7-12) but the leadership was unwilling to take the time to determine this fact.

As we have seen across this year, the Davis Administration's anxiety about intensifying protests over tuition and the danger of losing control of campus space has been a recurrent theme.  As I noted last week 12 protesters have recently been charged with 20 misdemeanors relating to the protest at the campus' US Bank branch office.  Considering that even by the accounts provided in the complaint letters there were far more than 12 people involved, the selective nature of the prosecution seems evident (and this leaves aside the fact that they are being charged with blocking public sidewalks!).  And given that one of the 12 is Joshua Clover who has been one of the most outspoken and consistent critics of the increasing tuition burdens placed on students at UC, the selective nature of the prosecution seems even clearer.  That the DA would wait 2 months to bring charges and then do so in such a selective manner suggests something more than simple law enforcement.  That the Davis administration has been in touch with the DA to identify possible protesters reinforces that point.  That convictions on all counts could lead to 10 years imprisonment is more chilling.  It is hard to see any purpose beyond attempted intimidation of dissent.

Of course, Davis has not been the only site of such policing and prosecution.  The Davis Pepper spraying occurred after the use of batons at Berkeley, and the UCBPD has also identified protesters for prosecution whether or not they had been arrested at the scene.  Both Chancellor Birgeneau and Vice-Chancellor Breslauer shared Chancellor Katehi's fears about the Occupy movement and were, arguably, more connected to what was actually happening when campus police deployed violence.  More recently, 3 UCLA students were arrested at the latest Regents Meeting while they were leaving. They were charged, as best I can determine for their interactions with UCPD.   Two kept over night and held on substantial bail (one over $10,000 and one over $60,000).  Once again, there were far more people at these events than those arrested.  And according to some reports the UCLA students who were arrested had been pointed out by a member of UCLAPD.

Both in what it says, and in what it does not address, the Reynoso Task Force in the context of UC's ongoing reaction to protest raises more questions than it answers.  Administrators across the system seem far more concerned with campus order than with campus safety; more concerned with delimiting than with embracing free speech and dissent, more inclined to see student and faculty protesters as outside infections than as members of a community fighting desperately to protect the University of California and its ideals.

Were the Davis administrators assuming that protest was criminal?  Is UCOP?  It is hard not to think so.  But is this what they wish for their epitaph:  They criminalized dissent and policed their students, staff, and faculty exercise of free speech?  If so, it is hard to see why they should retain authority over a great Public University.

7 comments:

Unknown said...

A minor moment of Déjà vu: Early evening Nov. 20, 2009 found UC Berkeley’s Chancellor Birgeneau still believing, incorrectly and after a whole day of action, that the occupiers of Wheeler Hall were non-student, outside agitators. Few of the occupiers were non-affiliates, and faculty who met with the Chancellor that evening—including those who had been in direct conversation with the occupiers—had to press hard to make Birgeneau believe otherwise.

Mark LeVine, UCI History said...

i'm really beginning to think there is a conspiracy at the highest levels of the UC administration and through the police to criminalize dissent, make the costs of civil disobedience prohibitively high, and use attacks on more vulnerable protesters against israel to normalize practices then used against protesters against other uc policies, espec. tuition increases and the like.

Currently, the student who heckled at the UC davis event featuring israeli soldiers is suffering greatly for his actions. After receiving punishment by Student Judicial Affairs in the form of a suspension from school and the loss of his job, the UC Police have again acted far beyond actions appropriate for the situation. This week, nine UC police officers stormed the student’s apartment early in the morning with a search warrant in hand. They handcuffed him and ransacked his apartment, taking his laptop and cell phone. He was never violent nor a physical threat, and thus had no need to be handcuffed. this is absolutely unacceptable.

i believe concerned faculty need to come together and initiate legal action against yudof and the senior ucop and campus administrations to force them to make public minutes of all meetings between yudof and other senior personnel of UC and of campuses and between them and senior police to understand if there is some kind of unstated policy that has been put in place in the last couple of years to ramp up repression of peaceful dissent.

Chris Newfield said...

Mark - could you post or send me links to the coverage of this apartment search? I can't find any. I did find a lot of blogs distributing the heckler's picture and full name and calling him a Muslim fascist . . .
On the disclosure of documents, there are still public records act requests outstanding and an official statement of support from the Senate or FAs would be very helpful.
Why don't interested faculty draft a framework for campus dissent that proscribes the abuses we've been seeing? I'm not an expert on this but I can think of a half-dozen principles that would get the university out of the spiral it's in, roll back what you note is a growing effort to raise the costs of legal forms of protest, and give UC students, particularly Muslim students, a sense of having equal rights to protection and dissent. There must be faculty with expertise that could write a framework fairly quickly

Reclaim UC! said...

http://reclaimuc.blogspot.com/2012/04/reynoso-report-portrait-of.html

Unknown said...

Hey Chris,
Unfortunately it has not been publicized at all yet. I spoke with the student who allegedly heckled at the Stand With Us event (at which I was present), and he told me he hasn't even been charged with anything. The cops have told him that they are researching possible charges! Furthermore a second student has been summoned to Student Judicial Affairs for his alleged heckling at the event.

I think that none of us want to publicize it until those facing charges have legal representation, for obvious reasons.

yours,
Geoffrey Wildanger
Graduate Student, UC Davis

Chris Newfield said...

thanks for this. yes the rumors were way out in front on this one, and I'm glad to hear they were wrong.

Unknown said...

Mark is correct, the student just hasn't been charged with anything yet.

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