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UC Chancellor Orders Internal Review In Light Of Police Violence

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In light of campus police violence against protesters, University of California, Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau faces lawsuits, a letter from over 1,700 instructors expressing "No Confidence," and a City Council cutting off support. In response, Birgeneau announced Monday he was ordering an official review of police actions.

On Nov. 9, UC Berkeley students launched Occupy Cal with a day of protest that saw 39 protesters get arrested and multiple videos surface on YouTube of campus police beating students.

Birgeneau said he had not viewed the videos until Sunday, Nov. 13. However, he issued a statement on Nov. 10 in which he said the protesters were "not non-violent."

"Not one video has surfaced showing a student defending himself, throwing a punch, attacking an officer," said Alex Bernard, a UC student who was on the front line of the protests at Berkeley. "The student movement is better able to control the actions of students than the administration is able to control the actions of the campus police. What they're afraid of is their losing in the court of public opinion."

Bernard sustained a broken rib from baton strikes by the UC Berkeley police. He said most of the people there were caught off guard by the extent of the force the campus cops used.

"Yes, there are protests at Cal all the time, but the police response [Nov. 9] was qualitatively different," Bernard said.

Celeste Langan, a tenured English professor who joined the student protesters, described in a blog post her encounter with police when she was arrested:

When the student in front of me was forcibly removed, I held out my wrist and said "Arrest me! Arrest me!" But rather than take my wrist or arm, the police grabbed me by my hair and yanked me forward to the ground, where I was told to lie on my stomach and was handcuffed. The injuries I sustained were relatively minor -- a fat lip, a few scrapes to the back of my palms, a sore scalp -- but also unnecessary and unjustified.

Campus policed have received similar condemnation for student protests over the past two years, including after events only a few months ago. One previous internal review found campus administration and police made serious errors during a November 2009 protest that mounted tensions to "literally dangerous levels."

The UC police chief said he was reviewing the footage as well, but hadn't ruled out using tear gas and pepper spray during future demonstrations.

The Berkeley City Council voted 8 to 0, because of the police violence, to refuse a mutual aid agreement with campus police. Councilmember Kriss Worthington took it a step further by issuing an open letter critical of the UC Berkeley police.

Worthington told HuffPost his biggest complaint was that the students declared beforehand they were not only committed to being non-violent, but also opposed any vandalism.

"It may take a little longer to arrest them than to hit them but it's pretty much what we expect in the United States and in Berkeley," Worthington said.

He further criticized the campus police for not knowing how to handle a protest better, considering the area's long history of demonstrations for various issues.

"If the UC police chief is demonstrating protest fatigue, then he should apply to be moved for a different assignment," Worthington said, adding, "the Berkeley [City] police seem to have learned how to manage protest and crowd control."

UC Berkeley Chief of Police Mitchell J. Celaya III declined The Huffington Post's requests to comment.

Bernard said UC police actions have had a "huge radicalizing effect -- far, far more people are tuned in" after the clashes with protesters. A strike is planned for Tuesday and he said they could gather to restart the encampment this week.

"I was pretty shaken up and I needed time to collect myself," Bernard said. "But I'm going to link arms nonviolently again. What we're doing is right and not going to back down."

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