Berkeley police defend response to Occupy Cal protests

A protester is led away after being arrested by police in riot gear in front of Sproul Hall on the University of California at Berkeley campus Wednesday

University of California at Berkeley police on Thursday defended their actions during demonstrations on campus the day before when the newly formed Occupy Cal movement drew thousands of people and resulted in dozens of arrests.

The protest became violent Wednesday night when police arrived to dissemble the makeshift encampment.

Police arrested 39 people Wednesday, including 32 students and a UC Berkeley English professor. An additional protester, who is not a student, was arrested Thursday morning for attempting to prevent an officer from removing a tent he had put up earlier that morning, UC Berkeley police Capt. Margo Bennett said.

Protesters were warned before Wednesday’s unrest through an email Monday from UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau that said camping on campus property and occupying buildings would not be tolerated.

Bennett said, “Our charge was to make sure there were no tents. In the course of moving those tents we met resistance … some people resisted us more than others.

She said, “The goal was not to arrest people, the goal was to bring down the tents,” Bennett said.

Officials said that all of those arrested were charged with willfully obstructing, interfering, or delaying police action, and all but one were cited with failure to leave an unlawful assembly. Two of those arrested were charged with battery on a police officer.

Bennett said that police would take no further action as long as there were no tents.

“That’s the deal. They have the right to come talk and speak as much as they want but they cannot camp,” she said.

When asked about videos circulating of what protesters allege was excessive force in Wednesday’s raid, Bennett said, “We’re going to review it” to see if it was appropriate or if there are areas to be improved on.

Since the arrests, the occupation has stayed fairly peaceful. The group met Thursday night at a General Assembly where group decisions are made through a vote.

Protesters have called for a student strike on the UC Berkeley campus for Tuesday, and are planning protests to coincide with the UC Regents meeting at UC San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus on Nov. 16 and 17 to protest proposed tuition and fee hikes, and to more generally protest cuts to public education throughout California.

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