Opinion: A Lost Job in 2003, A Nightstick Jab in 2011

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By Jonathan H

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Tonight I saw a video which reminded me of a moment eight years ago. I saw an officer of the UCPD, an officer at the alma mater for which I have always held high respect, senselessly beat a nonviolent woman standing her ground. The part that truly discourages me, however, is that I know the UCPD from personal experience, and that wasn’t the first time they resorted to such heavy-handed tactics. I was once part of the UCPD’s lowly student ranks of Community Service Officers; we earned a measly-but-much-appreciated $11 an hour as we paid our way through college. My job there was a much-needed source of funding for education.

Despite my love for UC Berkeley and all it has given me in life, I can’t help but be critical of its police department. It’s a department which, I know from personal experience, DOES NOT respect free speech, despite being located at the hearth and birthplace of free speech in America.

The beginning of this story goes back seven years: In 2003, innocent civilians were being firebombed in Baghdad by U.S. jets. The New York Times called such bombing “brilliant,” but I was among a small group of students at Berkeley who considered it nothing of the sort. It was unjust, terrorizing, wrong (not ‘brilliant’!) And we occupied the administration building in recognition of our heartfelt celebration of the free speech for which Berkeley is known. From the beginning, we were presented as the ‘radicals’, the ‘liberals.’ How radical is it to voice a reasonable opinion against senseless destruction and violence? Does “shock and awe” only belong to the saber-rattling jingoists? Many of us weren’t even liberals; we were libertarians, social liberals – maybe – but nothing of the drug-imbibing, commune-championing, hemp-loving, redistribution-believing hippies that Fox News would like you to think. We simply believed that Iraqi civilians didn’t have to die (115,000 and counting to this day).

Sproul Hall on March 20, 2003. I was sitting to the left of the man in the green jacket.

We walked into Sproul Hall, sat down, and chained our arms. It was a peaceful day in Berkeley, but far across the Atlantic Ocean F-16s were screeching through the sky about to deploy missiles. We felt helpless but hopeful. After all, we were part of an international movement of millions who voiced our disagreement with the Neoconservative agenda. We saw right through the doublespeak of Condy Rice, Donald Rumsfield, and Dick Cheney. We felt like patriots. We felt like we were helping others realize the exigency of the moment. Then the UCPD came in, along with the Vice Chancellor of the University. Leave or be arrested, they said. We stayed. “We certainly recognize your right to express your opinions about the war,” the Vice Chancellor said. “For those of you who decide you want to be arrested, we ask that you continue to do this in a nonviolent way.”

So we stayed nonviolent. The police put “pain holds” on many of us. We were dragged and carried away by two to three police at a time. One-hundred and nineteen of us were arrested that day. I felt good to be an American. But the unfortunate part is that it would be the first and last time I would put my future on the line for a political belief, for I now know that our constitutional right to free speech is not being protected as it should – and lifelong consequences can come of it..

A few days later, I was called by administrators at the police department. I was to lose my job. Later, charges of trespassing (602L)  were dropped, but that didn’t matter to the upper tiers of the UCPD. The Chief of Police, the lieutenants, and the captains in the department believed me to be another “liberal.” I had to go.

I came in, gave my keys to the Lieutenant Mitchell Celaya, and said goodbye to my job. Later, Chief Victoria Harrison apologized for the whole ordeal, admitting that there were many former military veterans in the department who didn’t like what I did. The damage was done. I lost my job for a political opinion, and I felt less proud to be an American the day that happened.

Vice Chancellor telling us we had to leave or be arrested - March 20, 2003, while bombs were being dropped on Baghdad.

Flash forward seven years and I encounter the video.  I recognize some of the silhouettes of the men. I’m sure some of the men swinging billy clubs are the same men who put the pain holds on me that day in March of 2003, the same men who worked with me before I lost my job. It’s amazing how little free speech is supported in this country today, some would say even less than it was in 2003. These bottom-up movements across the world, to me, are an effort to regain voice. For much too long, the average voter has felt as if her vote doesn’t matter. Our representatives answer to the “other” public – the 1%. It’s about time that our representatives in congress represent; otherwise, it’s about time that they lose their job too.

17 comments on “Opinion: A Lost Job in 2003, A Nightstick Jab in 2011

  1. You ask, “How radical is it to voice a reasonable opinion against senseless destruction and violence?” and then you give your answer: too radical, evidently.

    Thanks for the post, Jonathan.

  2. Thanks, Blaize. I hope the patriots at Berkeley (and in cities across the country) continue their fight. This movement can’t help but give one hope.

  3. Indeed. I am rather unfortunately afflicted by a major mental illness that destroyed my career path (college professor) and has left me marginally employed and on Social Security Disability. The vitriolic scorn heaped on me and others like me by the self-loathing poor and marginally middle class who comprise the ineptly-named nincompoopish Tea Party and who haunt internet forums, as well as the by all the Republican presidential candidates, had me crying every damn day in frustration and hurt. The Occupy activity–raising as it has the mention in major news media of the phrase “income inequality” by approximately 550%–has given me heart.

  4. Chuck G on said:

    Well, you had a great site and now you made it political. I really enjoyed it for what it was and used it as a bit of escapism from time to time. Now I say goodbye. Wish you well and I hope you get back on track some day.

  5. Hey Chuck, fair enough. Politics is something that this site has occasionally devolved into from time to time. Escapism is great, but I think sometimes I’d like this site to be about something more than just pretty pictures. The site has a whole category called “Politics & Borders” so it’s something the site has always been about.

  6. Great post, Jonathan!

    I was on campus the day the UCPD moved on the Occupy movement at Cal. I avoided the scene and didn’t witness the altercations, mostly because I already knew UCPD’s reputation and had no desire to catch a stray club (or rubber bullet or whiff of tear gas or whatever) as the price for satisfying my curiosity.

    I like your observations. I hope things change for the better soon, both at Cal and across the world.

  7. J.T. Colfax on said:

    Too bad you lost one reader, Jon. I don’t see how anyone can avoid taking notice of the goings on these days. By the way, how’s your student debt going?
    In other news, I would like to link a video that in my view is EVIDENCE. The video concerns a small skirmish in Denver on Sunday afternoon after Occupy Denver was decimated by the police on Saturday night. I do not know who took this vid. The thing is longtime Denver Police Spokesman Sonny Jackson said that arrests were made in this incident because protesters were rocking a police car, and were about to turn it over. He further stated that the protesters were doing this to an isolated officer. If you watch this guy’s video you can see that NO ONE touches the police car, therefore no one rocks it, and ipso facto it’s not about to be turned over. You can also see that there are dozens of officers nearby so, no One officer is really that isolated and in danger. I found this video with 13 hits on it an hour ago. The more light it gets, the chances are great that several people will get thier charges dropped.
    [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shPOF7NlHAU?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparent&w=640&h=360]

  8. Nit Picker on said:

    F-16 fighters do not launch cruise missiles, for what it’s worth.

  9. @Nit: Thanks for the clarification! Clearly I’m not adept at my knowledge of weapons of death and destruction. For this reason, Google exists. Not sure what was dropped, but it was probably one of these:
    Air-to-ground missiles:
    6× AGM-45 Shrike or
    6× AGM-65 Maverick or
    4× AGM-88 HARM

  10. Hi Jonathan,

    I discovered your blog back in the summer and have enjoyed perusing the articles and enjoying your adventures. Thanks for sharing the photos and your stories. While I admit that those adventures are what draw me to visit every so often in search of a new story, I find myself agreeing with your words in this latest post. The only problem I have had thus far with the OSW movement is the level of violence within the groups around the country. I admit that it could all conceivably be instigated by the police of various cities, but I get the general feeling that the “art” of protesting – as you so admirably did in 2003 – is on its way out. Hopefully people can learn how to truly protest without resorting to violence and the message that so desperately needs to be heard can be heard around the world loud and clear. You hit the nail smack on the head when you stated that people don’t feel like their vote matters. I quit voting because I don’t think my vote matters and everyone can lecture me all day long about how it is my “duty” to vote, but I ask – why should I take time out of my day to go to vote when in the end, people like Grover Norquist have all the power?

    Keep posting! Anything is better than nothing! 😉


  11. Jonathan Haeber on said:

    Kasey: I really appreciate the response, and the thoughtful reflection that you’ve included here. I’m not here to convince anybody of anything – heck, I have a hard enough time convincing myself. However, I do believe that the OWS movement has proven itself incredibly nonviolent. Perhaps it hasn’t always followed that dictum, but I think the movement has accomplished a lot in two months. For one… Can you imagine an officer senselessly being violent towards a citizen without thinking twice – especially after the UC Davis incident. Things are getting better… One can only hope. Thanks!

  12. I’m sorry that things went down that way, especially at the university with perhaps THE MOST liberal reputation in the country…Berkeley and hippies are pretty much synonymous.

    Going to jail for your cause is a noble thing, to be commended…I was recently tossed in a cell and held for 24 hours on $750 bond for doing nothing but photographing an Occupy eviction. The police and the courts draw no distinction between ‘unlawful rioters’ and journalists/bystanders/curious people; if you or I are present at one of these demonstrations, no matter our motives, we are no more than hostile targets to be neutralized by overwhelming and superior force. There seems to be no ‘free speech’ unless the powers-that-be approve it – you don’t see riot police showing up for Tea Party rallies, right? And the Teabaggers are almost certainly armed!

    On a more mellow note, this means less cops on the street guarding abandoned buildings, right?

  13. @abisset : Always happy to see fewer police patrolling abandoned buildings, so I’ll take the good from the bad! 🙂

  14. Stephen Freskos on said:

    How did I not realize you used to work for the cops!? hahaa. I know you’ve mentioned it but I must have forgot. Good article, mate

  15. happy days on said:

    baghdad was never hit with incinderary weapons, fighter jets do not carry cruise missiles as a loadout, shrikes, mavericks, and harm’s are none of those. shame you had to make the site a political agenda, maybe you’ll get back on course someday…

  16. Good stuff, it sucks that bombs are still being dropped on Iraq. Unfortunatly most protests stopped around November of 2008

  17. “Happy Days”: I beg to differ. Incendiary weapons were dropped. It is a matter of fact: Look up the Mark 77. The U.S. denies using it on civilians, but the record says otherwise. Even if civilians weren’t killed, these weapons have an iffy status as proper weapons to use per the Geneva Protocol. The Maverick (and I’m sure the others) WERE used in the Iraq war (“The Maverick was again used in Iraq during the 2003 Iraq War, during which 918 were fired.”). Do your homework instead of spewing nonsense. I’m tired of being criticized for my political views when the people who criticize me don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m happy to accept that I’m in the wrong if I truly am wrong. Finally: Contrary to what you may think, I think political views – especially informed political views – are extremely important. If you don’t believe so, go ahead and move to a country that doesn’t support free speech. Thank you for your time.

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