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Report blasts handling of Occupy Berkeley protests

By Terence Chea
Associated Press / June 7, 2012
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SAN FRANCISCO—A University of California, Berkeley report released Wednesday criticizes campus police for jabbing and clubbing student protesters with batons during Occupy demonstrations last fall.

In its report, the campus Police Review Board committee said its members were disturbed by the repeated striking of demonstrators who tried to stop officers last Nov. 9 from removing tents they had pitched near Berkeley's Sproul Plaza.

"The vigor of these baton thrusts is most distressing," the report said. "The police hit some students while they seemed bent over in pain from prior strikes to the gut."

Online video of the confrontation prompted widespread criticism and a lawsuit alleging police brutality against two dozen students and community members who participated in Berkeley protests inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

In the week before the crackdown, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau notified the campus of Berkeley's no-camping policy, but there were no specific instructions on how the ban would be enforced, according to the report. Birgeneau was traveling in Asia when the clashes occurred.

The five-member panel called on the school administration and police department to improve planning and procedures for handling future demonstrations. It urges them to clearly communicate school policies on campus protests and engage in constructive dialogue with protesters before resorting to police action.

"One thing is most clear: Strictly confined limits, as precise as possible, should be articulated regarding the use of force by law enforcement during any protest events," the report said.

In an addendum to the main report, committee member Eve Weissman was more critical of the administration. She said school officials were heavily influenced by an unfounded belief that outside elements were behind the day's actions and questioned the legal basis for removing the tents.

"Campus leadership's preparations for and response to the day's action was unjustified, inadequate and irresponsible," wrote Weissman, the board's graduate school representative.

Attorney Ronald Cruz, who represents the protesters suing UC Berkeley, said his clients still plan to pursue the lawsuit and "make sure public education and free speech are alive and well at these campuses."

"The Board's report does not constitute justice and does not prevent UC Berkeley from attacking student protest again in the future," said Cruz, an attorney with the advocacy group By Any Means Necessary.

The five-member Police Review Board committee, led by Berkeley law professor Jesse Choper, investigated the incident at the chancellor's request. The panel reviewed hours of online videos and held two public forums to hear testimony about that day.

"We truly regret that our processes were not adequate for handling the particular challenges of that day," Birgeneau said in a statement Wednesday responding to the report.

In the months since the crackdown, the campus has established new guidelines for responding to campus demonstrations that are consistent with the committee's recommendations, Birgeneau said.

In April, a UC Davis task force released a report on widely condemned pepper-spraying of student protesters who tried to set up an Occupy encampment on that campus last Nov. 19. That report concluded the use of pepper spray was unreasonable and blamed the incident on poor communication and planning throughout the campus chain of command.

Last month, a separate UC committee issued a report that lists 50 policy recommendations to better handle future protests throughout the 10-campus system. It calls for more measured responses that rely more on discussion and mediation to avoid the need for police force.

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