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How to Protest at Berkeley

July 19, 2013

For a brief period, it seemed like the UC Berkeley of popular imagination—protesters reviling a university appointment, with the incident escalating and ultimately culminating in the arrest of four students.

Yesterday’s brouhaha at a special meeting of the University of California Regents confirming U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano as the next President of the UC system may have brought a nostalgic tear or two to the rheumy eyes of aging Berkeley radicals, but it wasn’t the most auspicious start to her tenure.

Napolitano, for her part, quickly expressed a certain solidarity with the protesters, who were mostly undocumented immigrant students. She observed she supported the DREAM Act—which extends conditional permanent residency to undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors and graduated from high school—and that the education of all students, regardless of documentation or the lack thereof, is the bedrock business of UC.

Still, the protest and subsequent arrests got us wondering: Have campus police guidelines on demonstrations changed much since the antic Sixties? And where do protests—and arresting protestors—fit into the UC Police Department’s quotidian duties? We talked to UCPD Captain Stephen Roderick for details.

It turns out the department publishes a set of guidelines on protests. Printed as four-color flyers, you can pick them up at 1 Sproul Hall or access the information online.

The advisories haven’t changed all that much over the years, and are hence somewhat predictable: Obey the orders of officers, expect force to be used if you attempt to cross police lines or barricades, do not vandalize property or police equipment, and if you choose to be arrested, follow police instructions.

“It’s a matter of balance,” said Roderick. “We try to walk that line between respecting individual rights—including the right to protest—with upholding the law and protecting the rights of people who are not protesting.”

Though media coverage has declined since the Vietnam War era (ho-hum, another Berkeley protest), demonstrations are still very much part of Berkeley culture—and an enforcement issue for the UCPD.

“It’s not as bad as it used to be, but we still have our moments,” Roderick said. “Actually, the past couple of years have been fairly tumultuous. Yesterday was one example. But we also had a lot of demonstrations on student fee issues and the Occupy movement. It’s been challenging.”

In the case of the Napolitano incident, Roderick said, the Regents declared an unlawful assembly after demonstrators upended the meeting.

“We [the officers] were required to clear the room, and we had to arrest a few people when they tried to jump over the rope [separating the Regents from the meeting attendees]. This was a case of the protestors becoming so disruptive that the rights of other people in the room were impeded.” Roderick said he believed the arrestees were charged with disturbing the peace.

Still, much of the department’s work is focused on issues other than protests, Roderick noted. With about 70 officers, the campus PD is about the size of a force typical for a small city—and as with most cities, property crime is the biggest concern.

“The UC campus is actually quite safe, but it’s like everywhere else in the U.S.—a lot of computers and mobile phones are reported as stolen.”

—Glen Martin

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