Daily Archives: November 21, 2011

The Militarization of US Campus Police: Three Responses

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Last week, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau issued a statement justifying the brutal use of police batons on student protesters like this:

It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents. This is not non-violent civil disobedience… the police were forced to use their batons.

Perhaps the Chancellors of Davis and Berkeley have never seen this photo of people with linked arms. It is an iconic image of non-violent civil disobedience in this country.

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau thus joins the likes of Bull Connor, the notorious segregationist and architect of the violent repression of the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama, as some of the very few people who view the non-violent tactics of Martin Luther King as violent.

Most people disagree, which is why King was given the Nobel Peace Prize.

Throughout my life I have seen, and sometimes participated in, peaceful civil disobedience in which sitting and linking arms was understood by citizens as a posture that indicates, in the clearest possible way available, protestors’ intent to be non-violent. If example, if you look through training materials from groups like the Quakers, the various pacifist organization and centers, and Christian organizations, it is universally taught that sitting and linking arms is the best way to de-escalate any confrontation between police and people exercising their first amendment right to public speech.

Likewise, for over 30 years I have seen police universally understand this gesture. Many many times I have seen police treat protestors who sat and linked arms when told they must disperse or face arrest as a very routine matter: the police then approach the protestors individually and ask them if, upon arrest, they are going to walk of their own accord or not the police will have to carry them. In fact, this has become so routine that I have often wondered if this form of protest had become so scripted as to have lost most of its meaning.

No more.

What we have seen in the last two weeks around the country, and now at Davis, is a radical departure from the way police have handled protest in this country for half a century. Two days ago an 84-year-old woman was sprayed with a chemical assault agent in Seattle in the same manner our students at Davis were maced. A Hispanic New York City Councilman was brutally thrown to the ground, arrested, and held cuffed in a police van for two hours for no reason at all, and was never even told why he was arrested. And I am sure you all know about former Marine Lance Cpl. Scott Olsen, who suffered a fractured skull after police hit him with a tear gas canister, then rolled a flash bomb into the group of citizens trying to give him emergency medical care.

Last week, former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper published an essay arguing that the current epidemic of police brutality is a reflection of the militarization (his word, not mine) of our urban police forces, the result of years of the “war on drugs” and the “war on terror. Stamper was chief of police during the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999, and is not a voice that can be easily dismissed.

Yesterday, the militarization of policing in the U.S. arrived on my own campus.

These issues go to the core of what democracy means. We have a major economic crisis in this country that was brought on by the greedy and irresponsible behavior of big banks. No banker has been arrested, and certainly none have been pepper sprayed. Arrests and chemical assault is for those trying to defend their homes, their jobs, and their schools.

These are not trivial matters. This is a moment to stand up and be counted. I am proud to teach at a university where students have done so.

Bob Ostertag, “Militarization of Campus Police”

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I am writing to tell you in no uncertain terms that there must be space for protest on our campus. There must be space for political dissent on our campus. There must be space for civil disobedience on our campus. There must be space for students to assert their right to decide on the form of their protest, their dissent, and their civil disobedience—including the simple act of setting up tents in solidarity with other students who have done so. There must be space for protest and dissent, especially, when the object of protest and dissent is police brutality itself. You may not order police to forcefully disperse student protesters peacefully protesting police brutality. You may not do so. It is not an option available to you as the Chancellor of a UC campus. That is why I am calling for your immediate resignation.

Your words express concern for the safety of our students. Your actions express no concern whatsoever for the safety of our students. I deduce from this discrepancy that you are not, in fact, concerned about the safety of our students. Your actions directly threaten the safety of our students. And I want you to know that this is clear. It is clear to anyone who reads your campus emails concerning our “Principles of Community” and who also takes the time to inform themselves about your actions. You should bear in mind that when you send emails to the UC Davis community, you address a body of faculty and students who are well trained to see through rhetoric that evinces care for students while implicitly threatening them. I see through your rhetoric very clearly. You also write to a campus community that knows how to speak truth to power. That is what I am doing.

I call for your resignation because you are unfit to do your job. You are unfit to ensure the safety of students at UC Davis. In fact: you are the primary threat to the safety of students at UC Davis. As such, I call upon you to resign immediately.

Nathan Brown, “Open Letter to Chancellor Linda B.P. Katehi”

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Once the cordon formed, the deputy sheriffs pointed their truncheons toward the crowd. It looked like the oldest of military maneuvers, a phalanx out of the Trojan War, but with billy clubs instead of spears. The students were wearing scarves for the first time that year, their cheeks rosy with the first bite of real cold after the long Californian Indian summer. The billy clubs were about the size of a boy’s Little League baseball bat. My wife was speaking to the young deputies about the importance of nonviolence and explaining why they should be at home reading to their children, when one of the deputies reached out, shoved my wife in the chest and knocked her down.

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My wife bounced nimbly to her feet. I tripped and almost fell over her trying to help her up, and at that moment the deputies in the cordon surged forward and, using their clubs as battering rams, began to hammer at the bodies of the line of students. It was stunning to see. They swung hard into their chests and bellies. Particularly shocking to me — it must be a generational reaction — was that they assaulted both the young men and the young women with the same indiscriminate force. If the students turned away, they pounded their ribs. If they turned further away to escape, they hit them on their spines.

NONE of the police officers invited us to disperse or gave any warning. We couldn’t have dispersed if we’d wanted to because the crowd behind us was pushing forward to see what was going on. The descriptor for what I tried to do is “remonstrate.” I screamed at the deputy who had knocked down my wife, “You just knocked down my wife, for Christ’s sake!” A couple of students had pushed forward in the excitement and the deputies grabbed them, pulled them to the ground and cudgeled them, raising the clubs above their heads and swinging. The line surged. I got whacked hard in the ribs twice and once across the forearm. Some of the deputies used their truncheons as bars and seemed to be trying to use minimum force to get people to move. And then, suddenly, they stopped, on some signal, and reformed their line. Apparently a group of deputies had beaten their way to the Occupy tents and taken them down. They stood, again immobile, clubs held across their chests, eyes carefully meeting no one’s eyes, faces impassive. I imagined that their adrenaline was surging as much as mine.

My ribs didn’t hurt very badly until the next day and then it hurt to laugh, so I skipped the gym for a couple of mornings, and I was a little disappointed that the bruises weren’t slightly more dramatic. It argued either for a kind of restraint or a kind of low cunning in the training of the police. They had hit me hard enough so that I was sore for days, but not hard enough to leave much of a mark. I wasn’t so badly off. One of my colleagues, also a poet, Geoffrey O’Brien, had a broken rib. Another colleague, Celeste Langan, a Wordsworth scholar, got dragged across the grass by her hair when she presented herself for arrest.

I won’t recite the statistics, but the entire university system in California is under great stress and the State Legislature is paralyzed by a minority of legislators whose only idea is that they don’t want to pay one more cent in taxes. Meanwhile, students at Berkeley are graduating with an average indebtedness of something like $16,000. It is no wonder that the real estate industry started inventing loans for people who couldn’t pay them back.

“Whose university?” the students had chanted. Well, it is theirs, and it ought to be everyone else’s in California. It also belongs to the future, and to the dead who paid taxes to build one of the greatest systems of public education in the world.

Robert Hass, “Poet-Bashing Police”

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Russia: A Bill to Silence Millions (petition) / LGBT Activists Crash NGO Forum in Petersburg

www.allout.org/en/actions/russia_silenced

Russia: a bill to silence millions

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Russian LGBT activists are detained for the simple act of publicly demanding their rights.

57,608
GOAL: 75,000
57,608 people support this campaign. Help us get to 75,000.

Political leaders in St. Petersburg are about to vote on law that will make it illegal for any person to write a book, publish an article or speak in public about being gay, lesbian or transgender. The ruling party led by President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin could make millions of people invisible with the stroke of a pen. Human rights defenders around the country are doing everything they can to stop it. They are risking their freedom to organize flashmobs and protests, but they are afraid that it won’t be enough. Right now, the world needs to speak up and tell Russian authorities to drop the bill. Join this call to leaders around the world to reach out to their counterparts in the Russian government – and ask them to reject this discriminatory and anti-democratic law.

TO WORLD LEADERS:

The party led by Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin is pushing discriminatory legislation against lesbian, bi, gay and trans people that could eliminate their freedom to speak publicly and assemble. Russia is a signatory to numerous international human rights treaties – including the European Convention on Human Rights. We call on you to urgently speak out and hold Russia accountable to its treaty obligations – and stand with LGBT Russians whose ability to speak for themselves is under attack.

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Sign the petition here.

You can see Sergey Chernov’s photo reportage of Sunday’s flash mob against the proposed law on Palace Square here.

On November 16, the International Day for Tolerance, Petersburg LGBT activists and their supporters picketed the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly.

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Echo Moscow in St. Petersburg · November 20, 2011

Gay activists seized the podium of an international forum to be heard

On November 19, as part of Finland’s presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers, a forum for NGOs from Northern Europe and Russia opened in Saint Petersburg.

Among the announced priority topics of the forum were equality, tolerance and gender equality.

Representatives of the State Duma, the Government of Saint Petersburg, and the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly of Saint Petersburg (Vatanyar Yagya) spoke at length about how Saint Petersburg is a progressive city, and the protection of human rights is an extremely important task for the governments of Russia and Petersburg.

While one of the scheduled speakers lingered on his way to the podium, LGBT activists from the Russian LGBT Network, Coming Out, and the Side by Side Film Festival took the floor.

Igor Kochetkov’s speech was brief: during the minute and a half that he was able to to hold onto the microphone, Kochetkov managed to report on the homophobic bill [now under consideration in the Petersburg Legislative Assembly], gross human rights violations in Saint Petersburg and Russia, and the lack of reaction on the part of officials to complaints by citizens and organizations. He urged the forum to draft a resolution on this issue, and the forum’s international participants to inform their governments about the despotism of the Russian authorities.

During Igor Kochetkov’s speech, the activists, who had made their way into the hall in advance under the guise of forum participants and had nearly been put to sleep by the lovely speeches of the Russian bureaucrats, unfurled banners (“Tolerance is for society, not only for international forums!” Russia! Respect Gay and Lesbian Human Rights,” “Let’s Stop the Homophobic Law Together!” “Deputies! Respect the Russian Federation Constitution”) and handed out leaflets.

Officials and representatives of Russian and foreign NGOs listened to the speech in total silence; some applauded. At the exit of the conference room, as they hurried to leave the premises, the activists were met by a security guard who escorted them to the front door of the hotel.

An activist with a video camera who remained in the hall managed to record the following speech, by the Russian Presidential Plenipotentiary in the Northwest Federal District, which was full of sparkling humor. He said that the applause after the appearance by the activists was actually applause for Russia’s democracy, and that garden homes were the pillar of the strong Russian family.

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Filed under activism, feminism, gay rights, film and video, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, protests, Russian society

The United Russia Guide to Winning Hearts and Minds. Strategy 4: Arrest “Unruly” Students at Russia’s Premier University

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http://www.rosbalt.ru/moscow/2011/11/19/914449.html

Students planning to protest UR campaign propaganda arrested near Moscow State University

Moscow, November 19. Fifteen students, grad students and alumni were arrested on the campus of Moscow State University this afternoon after the protest action “Students against the Use of Moscow State in the United Russian Election Campaign.” Uniformed police and plainclothes officers, who refused to identify themselves, made the arrests in a quite brutal manner: eyewitnesses told Rosbalt that they grabbed the students, dragged them across the ground and beat them.

From one p.m. to two p.m. today, during ceremonies marking the 300th anniversary of Mikhail Lomonosov’s birth, Moscow State students and teachers had planned to hold a picket outside the Universitet metro station to express their disagreeme3nt with the use of  the university’s name by members of the university administration in pre-election campaigning for United Russia. However, despite established practice, in this case at the last minute it transpired that the prefecture of the Western Administrative District had not authorized the protest, MSU employees noted. Despite assurances by telephone that everything was in order, when protest organizers received a written response [from the prefecture] on Friday, they learned that [the authorities] proposed moving the picketing site to the Taras Shevchenko Embankment [a “ghetto” that Moscow authorities often send protesters to keep away from public view].

Disagreeing with the prefecture’s decision, students decided to gather outside Universitet metro station to discuss the situation and hold a series of one-person pickets, which by law do not require prior approval by the authorities. The behavior of the police officers [at the metro station] and conversation with commanding officers made it clear that they had been ordered to repress any action on the part of activists, including one-person pickets. In particular, the police warned that if the [protesters] moved off together in the same direction, this would be regarded as a demonstration and arrests would begin.

The protesters decided not to give the police reason to arrest them and went off to have an informal discussion of the situation, without posters and slogans, in the park at the Eternal Flame, which is located opposite Academic Building No. 1.

During their discussion of self-government at the university, police officers, who did not identify themselves, began forcibly pulling students and graduate students from the group and arresting them for [holding] an “unsanctioned rally.” According to our sources, police colonel Kostin supervised the arrests. The students were then taken to Ramenki police station in police cars U7120, U7160, and U7134.

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MGU Is No Place for Discussion
The Moscow Times
24 October 2011
By Victor Davidoff

The dramatic events that took place on Thursday in Libya will ensure that this date will be remembered in history. An important event took place in Russia on that day, too, and while although it was far less dramatic than the death of Moammar Gadhafi, it was rich with symbolism.

On Thursday, President Medvedev met with students and representatives of youth organization at the journalism department of Moscow State University.

The choice of venue and conditions of the meeting were a vivid indicator of the current status of freedom of speech in the country at present and what it is likely to be under a continuation of the ruling tandem.

First, the event wasn’t announced anywhere and was planned in absolute secrecy. The students at the journalism department didn’t know about it, and even the dean, Yelena Vartanova, was informed about the president’s visit only the day before. She was just asked to make sure that two auditoriums were free — one for the meeting and the other for a buffet.

On the morning of the meeting, hungry students drooled over a huge amount of food and drink that was brought in for the buffet — hungry in the literal sense because the Federal Guard Service, which provides security for the president, closed the departmental cafeteria as a security precaution.

The security detail closed off the entire building and carried out its own special face control, not letting in students whose names were on their blacklist. Some faculty members were barred from the building, too.

But that was a minor inconvenience, as one student, D-lindele, wrote on his LiveJournal blog, : “That was nothing compared with what happened next. The journalism students were shocked to learn that the ‘students’ at the meeting with the president would really be dozens of activists from Nashi and other similar organizations.”

But the author was mistaken. In fact, there were about 30 students from the journalism department — about one-tenth of the audience. Only the most trustworthy students were invited, including the attractive girls whose half-nude photographs graced a calendar made for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s birthday last year. Other less-trusted journalism students were only allowed to greet the president when he entered the hall and went up the stairs.

In a video on YouTube showing the meet-and-greet episode, you can see an unidentified student about a meter from Medvedev holding up a hand-made sign the size of an A4 sheet of paper. Then security guards close in on him, and he disappears behind their backs.

That wasn’t the only protest that the president chose to ignore. Student Igor_malinin wrote on his LiveJournal blog: “Just then a group of enterprising guys held up oppositional signs, like ‘Press isn’t from the word oppress’ and ‘Why do you tweet while Khodorkovsky rots in jail?’ Right now they’ve been detained by the Federal Guard Service and are being held in the auditorium.’

Three female students were detained for protesting by the entrance to the building and spent several hours in a police precinct. Altogether, seven journalism students were detained. Typically, the detention of protesters was not mentioned in any of the television news reports.

Budur, a blogger from the journalism department, wrote: “Citizen Medvedev humiliated and insulted the dignity of seven members of our community. The seven did not organize a rally or do anything against the law or against university bylaws. They were just doing their civic duty. This is the first time since the 1930s that people were arrested right on the campus of the university.”

After the meeting, one of the journalists managed to ask Medvedev what happened to the students who had been detained. “Is someone being detained some place?” Medvedev asked. Apparently he was the only one who didn’t know.

And that evening, Medvedev sent out a cheery tweet on Twitter: “The meeting at the journalism department was good. I see that everyone had a good time. Thanks for the comments. Sweet dreams.”

Perhaps Medvedev actually thinks that a staged event with a paramilitary security operation during which protesters were arrested in his presence was a “good meeting.” And perhaps he thinks that it was held with full respect for the law and everyone’s civil rights. Or perhaps he thinks that the most important aspect of the event was that everyone had a good time.

If so, it shows how little he understands the country that he is ruling, where an increasing number of people have a completely different notion of civil rights than Medvedev and his security advisers. And eventually they will find a way to make the authorities play by their rules in politics.

In the meantime, sweet dreams, Mr. President.

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Olga Kuzmenko and Vera Kichanova, two of the Moscow State University students detained before President Medvedev’s speech in October, talk about the experience with MK-TV:

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