When activists (who are not necessarily students) were able to delay construction of a UC Berkeley sports center by living in trees for 21 months, there was no review of what went wrong.
When protesters with torches vandalized UC Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's home, there was no review. But when UC police arrested 46 people demonstrating against higher-education cuts by occupying Wheeler Hall on Nov. 20, there were complaints that police overreacted. And so -- with authorities, not anarchists in the sights -- a review was born.
Last week, UC Berkeley released the 128-page report. In academic fashion, it notes two forces that converted "an animated but essentially non-violent protest into a raw power struggle between demonstrators and police" -- without overtly taking sides.
There were officers, who in a "series of over-reactions by insufficiently supervised police" at moments overreacted, intensifying fears among students. Then there were demonstrators, mostly "young, sincere, and emotionally mobile" students, but also "a smaller group" that "set out to instigate confrontations with police" and provoke them "into high-visibility over-reactions that could be used to inflame the crowd and escalate its aggressiveness."
The review served a useful purpose in that it details the need for campus police to prepare for the worst and, when it occurs, to communicate with demonstrators and other law enforcement personnel who come to their aid.
There are also some heroes in the review, like Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard, who took the initiative to advise Wheeler Hall occupiers via megaphone that if they wanted to leave peacefully, they should sit down before the police came in. "As it turned out," the report notes, "all the occupiers followed this wise advice."
Two aspects of the report stand out for me.
First, there's this dubious theory on the use of riot gear by officers from UC and other departments called to aid the scene: "If the police had not worn riot gear, there never would have been a need for it."
While the review purports not to take a side on this theory, the review board continues, "We wonder whether it was wise to have some of the mutual aid squads try to move through the crowd in rigid, formal, militaristic formation."
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