Police Protest Response Criticized

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This footage is courtesy of Pourya Khademi, a senior at UC Berkeley studying Political Science.

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As protesters complain about the use of pepper spray and batons by police officers during Thursday's protest, UCPD maintains that the actions were necessary in light of the situation.

As initially nine protesters stood atop a ledge on Wheeler Hall Thursday beginning at about 1:45 p.m., a crowd fluctuating between 50 to 300 people throughout the day began to culminate around the steps below, at one point prompting police to declare an unlawful assembly and creating a situation where police officials said it became necessary to use strategies to clear the steps in order to both secure the building and for fear that those above might fall.

To handle the situation, UCPD called in mutual aid from police departments in places like Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville.

While trying to clear the steps, police yelled instructions to the crowd while pushing them with batons past the steps and a barricade was erected to hold the area. Pepper spray was employed by one officer who was struggling with a couple people to close the door, said UCPD Police Chief Mitch Celaya.

"It comes down to people having a right to assemble and to protest, but at some point, when the people have to move for safety reasons, people also have an obligation to follow instructions," Celaya said.

However, protesters and passersby said they felt the police used excessive force and that pepper spray and batons were used without sufficient warning.

Sophomore and member of the Student Worker Action Team Jessica Astillero said she was pepper sprayed after studying in the doorway when police told her to move. Before she could get out of the way, police started hitting people and one police officer was waiting with pepper spray, she said.

"I just thought they would tell us before they charged. We weren't expecting it," Astillero said Thursday.

UC Berkeley senior Pourya Khademi said he was on his way to class when he saw the protest efforts and went to see what was going on. The police showed up without warning and started moving, he said.

"The police hit us with the batons in the stomach with the tip of their stick. Absolutely full, full force," said Khademi, a professional violinist who said he now suffers injuries to his left arm, making it difficult to play.

Still, according to UCPD Lt. Alex Yao, the main concern during protests is to ensure the safety of everyone present, but also to ensure that rules and policies are being followed.

"Our main concern is the safety of all those involved, including the demonstrators and the crowd," Yao said. "At the same time, we must ensure that everyone's rights are being observed ... and that rules and policies are being complied with."

But Ph.D. student Callie Maidhof, said the actions taken by police did not demonstrate that they were trying to protect anyone's safety. Maidhof said the measures seemed counterproductive in subduing protesters, with the number of people swelling when the police arrived.

Celaya maintained that officers "lawfully moved people back." When some did not comply, "it was necessary to physically move them back," said Celaya.

Khademi, who was also hit in the face with pepper spray, said the worst part was that even though he wanted to get away, he was stuck in the crowd.

"It felt horrendous. I really wanted to die in that moment," Khademi said.

Adelyn Baxter of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.


Contact Weiru Fang at [email protected]

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