Public Comment

Commentary: The Truth About UC’s Private Militia

By Marcella Sadlowski
Thursday May 01, 2008 - 10:21:00 AM

To protect and to serve” has never been UC Police policy when it comes to student protest. Back in 1969, UC Police enforced UC policy on People’s Park. UCPD failed, and today we have a park, not a parking lot. In 1999, when hunger strikers defended Ethnic Studies, UCPD beat the protesters. Again they failed, and today Ethnic Studies has tenured faculty. 

Recently, UCPD has made over 100 arrests at the oak grove, and conducted numerous raids, stealing activists’ personal property, blankets, food, water, and even leaflets, making a mockery of their alleged respect for free speech. 

Many students are disgusted with UC’s misguided policies, including an undemocratic Board of Regents, designing nuclear weapons, collaboration with environmental criminal British Petroleum, and Chancellor Birgeneau’s refusal to meet with Tribal Leaders to release the 13,000 Native American remains stored in the basement of the Phoebe Hearst museum. Michael “Fresh” Schuck, a former student who withdrew from a corrupt institution, climbed a tree near Wheeler Hall in early March to raise awareness. UCPD’s response was to violate the Geneva Conventions and human rights laws by denying food and water to a peaceful protester. Several students were arrested for tossing Schuck water bottles. 

UCPD malfeasance extends into racist targeting of people of color. Recently UC Police Chief Harrison met with me to discuss UCPD’s harassment of tree-sitters and the possibility of UCPD opening the gates to the oak grove to accommodate the Longest Walk, a Native America cross-continental trek to defend sacred sites and promote Native rights. After I went into the office to meet with Captain Beckford, I was arrested for an outstanding warrant—one that I had never been informed of, because UCPD mailed the citation to an incorrect address. The warrant charged me with violating the court order against the tree-sitters as well as obstructing a police officer. UCPD attempted to videotape grandmothers sending food and water to the tree-sitters on Dec. 2—the one-year anniversary party. My “Native American Burial Ground” banner allegedly interfered with their ability to spy on senior citizens armed with pies. 

UC Public Affairs Executive Director Dan Mogulof assured us that UCPD would not interfere with the party. The fact that UCPD targeted me—a woman of color—was not only a violation of this commitment, but also a racist action. Many others held the banner, but only Zachary RunningWolf and myself were charged. Furthermore, UCPD abused its discretion: They could have simply informed me of the warrant. I unnecessarily spent the night in Santa Rita Jail instead of studying for midterms, and I’m wasting time with numerous court appearances. 

UC has tried to spin the truth about UCPD behavior at the grove. Mogulof claims that UCPD actions, such as building fences with barbed wire and cutting traverse lines, are for the sake of safety. However, Chief Harrison admits they are “making life difficult” for those living in the trees. By cutting safety lines they are putting tree-sitters’ lives at risk. Lines have been cut and not properly removed; a tree-sitter climbed out on such a line and nearly fell to his death. 

UC hides the facts about the oak grove but historian Richard Schwartz believes that the area from the faculty glade to Memorial Stadium, including the grove, is an Ohlone burial ground. UC’s refusal to meet with tribal leaders—upon whose land this university was built—is further racism, as is their 12 arrests of RunningWolf. 

UCPD has no respect for veterans, either. A few months ago, a group of veterans gathered to read the names of the Californians who perished in World War I, because the stadium and the grove are a memorial to World War I Veterans. UCPD confiscated the sign bearing the veterans’ names. Recently, the last surviving U.S. veteran of the World War I, Frank Buckles, called for the oak grove to be preserved. 

UCPD also abuses and ridicules persons who are disabled. Tree-sit supporter Nate Pitts, who has Asperger’s, was recently called “Forrest Gump” by a UC police officer. UCPD has used excessive physical force against Pitts and other protesters. 

UCPD likes to brag about winning a court injunction against the tree-sit. An old white man’s ruling doesn’t make the tree-sit wrong—activists who sat in at segregated lunch counters in the South broke “the law” for the right reasons. The overwhelming majority of the citizens of Berkeley support the tree-sit. UCPD has been misinterpreting and abusing the court order for months. UCPD claims that speaking to tree-sitters violates the court order, a total fabrication. 

UCPD serves and protects not the people, but the imperial policies of the UC Regents, many of whom are war profiteers and the governor’s political cronies. None of the Regents are democratically elected, and this lack of community participation is reflected in the Regents’ callous disregard for the concerns of the people of California. The Regents’ private militia is anything but neutral when it comes to protest and resistance to UC imperialism. 


Marcella Sadlowski is a fourth-year Peace and Conflict Studies major and a member of Free Speech Free Trees Student Coalition.