L.A. Times and Berkeley Daily Planet, 12/12/09
Riya Bhattacharjee’s Berkeley Planet article “Eight Protesters Arrested After Attack On UC Berkeley Chancellor’s House” ends with a direct and indirect quote from Mogulof: “Mogulof strongly condemned the incident, saying that student activism had taken a “quantum leap,” by endangering the lives of university officials. “We are very lucky that nobody was hurt,” he said.”
With these statements Mogulof creates the impression that the Chancellor and his wife faced a mortal threat on Friday night. Chancellor Birgeneau released a statement about the incident, here as quoted in Mark Anton’s LA Times article: “These are criminals, not activists. The attack at our home was extraordinarily frightening and violent. My wife and I genuinely feared for our lives. . . . I urge the community and protesters to find more productive ways to express their points of view. To resort to life-endangering violence is never acceptable.”
We find it very plausible that Chancellor Birgeneau and his wife were afraid when woken up by a group of angry people outside their home–who wouldn’t be?–but are confused why they were afraid for their lives. From all reports, a group of between 40-70 people marched past the building at about 11pm last Friday night and some threw trash, broke flowerpots, and shattered windows. Scary, yes, very scary even, especially for jumpy Chancellor Birgeneau who ordered that the 60+ people sleeping and studying in student-occupied Wheeler Hall on campus be locked in and arrested early that same morning. But attempted murder? Attempted arson, attack on the inhabitants, or burglary? The Chancellor lives in an imposing stone fortress. Dan Perlstein, a professor of Education who witnessed the event while working late in an adjacent office building, notes that marchers arrived haphazardly, stayed briefly, and quickly scattered and that overall “what I do know is that I witnessed enough at variance with university officials’ accounts as reported in the press to make me suspicious of the rest of those accounts” (in an email to his department 12/14/09). While those arrested on suspicion of being associated with the Friday night march have been charged with rioting, threatening an education official, attempted burglary, attempted arson of an occupied building, felony vandalism, and assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer (for a total of 6 felonies), calls to police reported rioting and the photos show property damage.
One thing that is clear is that campus administrators are trying to portray the event in as extreme a light as possible, and are willing to distort the facts to do so. The police have trumped up the charges in many of the arrests made over the past month at protests at UC Berkeley and at other UC campuses. Doing so justifies high bail amounts and longer stints in jail, and garners hysterical press and terrified reactions from readers who imagine attackers on a manhunt. None of these inflated and imaginary charges have stuck, but by the time they have been dropped or amended they have done the expected PR damage and helped to polarize not just the public but protesters on campus. This flagrant misleading of the press is quite intentional and leads us to believe that Mogulof’s mandate from the administration is to create just two categories of protesters on this campus: those they can ignore and those they can criminalize.
While Friday night’s action is being debated on campus and while those more distant attempt to understand what happened, let’s keep some perspective. The only lives threatened appear to be those of the plants whose pots were broken (on the steps in the photo in the L.A. Times story, as is Mogulof). And the only threat on record to the Chancellor’s person, much less his life, seems to have come from Mogulof himself.