Most protesters arraigned on lesser charges
The 79 pro-Palestinian protesters who occupied UC Berkeley’s Wheeler Hall on April 9 were arraigned on charges of trespassing and disturbing the peace at the Berkeley branch of the Alameda County Superior Court Tuesday afternoon.
Seven of the defendants also face charges of resisting arrest, and 23-year-old student Roberto Hernandez faces assault and battery charges for allegedly biting one UC Berkeley police officer and attempting to bite another.
Students, activists and lawyers for the defendants attacked UC Berkeley for filing charges and the District Attorney for pursuing them. They also chided the university for suspending Students for Justice in Palestine, the group that led the April 9 takeover, pending an investigation of the incident.
“These acts are chilling symbols of state attempts to silence activism,” said Heba Nimr of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, arguing that authorities are singling out SJP for its views.
The student group has called for an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and a divestment from Israel by the UC system.
Alameda County Assistant District Attorney John Adams said the activists’ charges are “specious.”
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“I would categorically state that they’re not being targeted,” added UC Berkeley Assistant Chancellor John Cummins.
Cummins said the university suspended SJP, not because of its views, but because it disrupted classrooms during the Wheeler Hall occupation.
Hoang Phan, an SJP leader arrested on April 9, said the university has never suspended a student group for peaceful civil disobedience and argued that the move sets a dangerous precedent.
Cummins replied that SJP is a special case because the university warned the student group well in advance that a disruption of student life would not be tolerated.
Under the terms of the suspension, SJP is not allowed to reserve rooms or outdoor spaces for meetings and protests and is forbidden from setting up an informational table on Sproul Plaza at the heart of the campus.
Still, the group set up a table on Monday and received a letter from the Student Judicial Affairs Office warning that the group will face additional charges if it continues to do so.
In addition, the organization plans a “free speech, free Palestine” protest on Thursday. Activists reserved Sproul Plaza for the event under the name of Mediawatch, a different student group.
University spokesperson Janet Gilmore said SJP activists will be allowed to protest and leaflet. They simply cannot reserve Sproul Plaza as SJP, she said.
Osha Neumann, an attorney representing the defendants, called on UC Berkeley to pressure the District Attorney to drop the criminal charges.
“Once it moves to the DA’s office and the (UC Berkeley) police transfer the case, it is completely up to the District Attorney,” said Cummins, indicating that the university will not attempt to influence the District Attorney’s prosecution of the case.
Adams said he fully intends to pursue the case, but is open to a potential plea bargain.
“There’s always room for negotiation,” he said.
Lawyers on both sides will meet with Judge Carol Brosnahan on Friday. If no agreement is reached, pre-trial hearings for all 79 defendants are set for Monday and Tuesday, and Brosnahan will set court dates at the Oakland branch of the Superior Court.
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