Protesting the UCPD
And then some
By Andrew R. Quinio
Demonstrators gathered on UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza on Monday to protest what they considered the “torture” of Mostafa Tabatabainejad at the hands of UCLA’s campus police.
Tabatabainejad’s tasering last Tuesday was caught on camera and posted on the popular video Web site Youtube. It has since gained national attention.
Second-year UC Berkeley student Yaman Salahi, one of the organizers of the protest, expressed outrage at the incident, which prompted him to plan the demonstration. “It really brings it home to you,” Salahi said, “and I was furious when I saw the video.”
The aim of the protest, Salahi mentioned, was to spur a meeting with UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, UC President Robert Dynes, and other elements of the UC system that had control over the UCPD. In bringing the incident to their attention, Salahi hoped that UC administrators would establish an independent commission that would review current UCPD policies.
While police brutality was the main focus, protesters also took shots at the Bush administration, the war in Iraq, and other issues, with one protester even waving a Mexican flag. One speaker linked the actions of the UCPD with the policies in the Middle East, claiming that increased belligerence toward Iran was partly responsible for police brutality. “The way that we’ve got to battle against police brutality and racism here in the United States and the racism and bombing in the Middle East to is to build an independent anti-war movement,” claimed the speaker, who distributed copies of the Socialist Worker after delivering his remarks.
Tabatabinejad is in fact heard in the video yelling, “Here’s your Patriot Act, here’s your ... abuse of power.”
First-year student Kifa Shah, who also participated in the protest, agreed that race played a role in the incident. “I think he was pinpointed. He was Iranian and nobody else’s ID was being checked. It was discrimination,” Shah added.
The UCPD initially asked Tabatabainejad to leave UCLA’s Powell Library computer lab after failing to show a student ID card. A taser was used against Tabatabainejad when he resisted officers and refused to leave. Nancy Greenstein, a UCLA Police Department spokeswoman, told the Associated Press last week that ID checks in the library after 11 p.m. were routine. At UC Berkeley, ID cards communicate a similar process. The reverse side of all UC Berkeley student ID cards read: “This card is nontransferable and must be shown to Campus representatives on demand.”
Dr. Hatem Bazian, a lecturer in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at UC Berkeley, used the incident to highlight the issue of equal access to public resources. In his remarks to the protesters, Bazian said, “We would love people to have access to the library, whether they are students or not.” Bazian then remarked on the harms of privatization, and its ability to withhold resources from others.
During the speakers’ remarks, audio from the incident was played on the loudspeakers. Protesters also engaged the accompanying crowd in organized chants. One participant yelled, “What does a police state look like?” to which participants responded, “This is what a police state looks like.” Only three uniformed officers could be seen on Sproul Plaza, observing the protest from a considerable distance. None of them had tasers.
The crowd of protesters then took the demonstration into the basement of Sproul Hall, the location of the UCPD headquarters. They delivered a letter to Victoria Harrison, chief of police at UC Berkeley, and then moved the protest to California Hall, where they delivered the same letter to the chancellor’s office. The letter lists several demands; among them is an “immediate moratorium on Taser guns.”
According to Assistant Chief of Police Mitch Celaya, officers of the UCPD at Berkeley do not carry tasers to begin with. “It’s just one piece of equipment that we haven’t invested in,” Celaya said.
Check out the Patriot’s original footage:
Protester links police brutality to foreign policy.
Protesters storm UCPD headquarters.