Sunday, November 20, 2011

Old poets’ report: in front of Sproul Hall

Photo: adapted from The Daily Californian
Poet-Bashing Police (New York Times; Nov. 19)

By ROBERT HASS

Former U.S. poet laureate
…Earlier that day a colleague had written to say that the campus police had moved in to take down the Occupy tents and that students had been “beaten viciously.” I didn’t believe it. In broad daylight? And without provocation? So when we heard that the police had returned, my wife, Brenda Hillman, and I hurried to the campus. I wanted to see what was going to happen and how the police behaved, and how the students behaved. If there was trouble, we wanted to be there to do what we could to protect the students.
. . .
…The billy clubs were about the size of a boy’s Little League baseball bat. My wife was speaking to the young deputies about the importance of nonviolence and explaining why they should be at home reading to their children, when one of the deputies reached out, shoved my wife in the chest and knocked her down.
. . .
My wife bounced nimbly to her feet. I tripped and almost fell over her trying to help her up, and at that moment the deputies in the cordon surged forward and, using their clubs as battering rams, began to hammer at the bodies of the line of students. It was stunning to see. They swung hard into their chests and bellies. Particularly shocking to me — it must be a generational reaction — was that they assaulted both the young men and the young women with the same indiscriminate force. If the students turned away, they pounded their ribs. If they turned further away to escape, they hit them on their spines.

NONE of the police officers invited us to disperse or gave any warning. We couldn’t have dispersed if we’d wanted to because the crowd behind us was pushing forward to see what was going on. The descriptor for what I tried to do is “remonstrate.” I screamed at the deputy who had knocked down my wife, “You just knocked down my wife, for Christ’s sake!” A couple of students had pushed forward in the excitement and the deputies grabbed them, pulled them to the ground and cudgeled them, raising the clubs above their heads and swinging. The line surged. I got whacked hard in the ribs twice and once across the forearm. Some of the deputies used their truncheons as bars and seemed to be trying to use minimum force to get people to move. And then, suddenly, they stopped, on some signal, and reformed their line. Apparently a group of deputies had beaten their way to the Occupy tents and taken them down. They stood, again immobile, clubs held across their chests, eyes carefully meeting no one’s eyes, faces impassive. I imagined that their adrenaline was surging as much as mine.
. . .
Paralyzed by Don
… They had hit me hard enough so that I was sore for days, but not hard enough to leave much of a mark. I wasn’t so badly off. One of my colleagues, also a poet, Geoffrey O’Brien, had a broken rib. Another colleague, Celeste Langan, a Wordsworth scholar, got dragged across the grass by her hair when she presented herself for arrest.
. . .
I won’t recite the statistics, but the entire university system in California is under great stress and the State Legislature is paralyzed by a minority of legislators whose only idea is that they don’t want to pay one more cent in taxes. Meanwhile, students at Berkeley are graduating with an average indebtedness of something like $16,000. It is no wonder that the real estate industry started inventing loans for people who couldn’t pay them back.
. . .
…The next night the students put the tents back up. Students filled the plaza again with a festive atmosphere….

Robert Hass is a professor of poetry and poetics at the University of California, Berkeley, and former poet laureate of the United States.

UCPD yank women by their hair


SEE ALSO:
• Occupy Cal: a former IVC Student Reports from Sproul 
• Former IVC Student Reports: "Occupy Cal: The Movement of All"

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I've been enjoying the missives from Berkeley - though "enjoying" is probably not the best term.

Anonymous said...

I am taken back to the dissent during the early Vietnam era. But, this time the enemy is less clear.
Unfortuntely, police usually behave like the guys with the big sticks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for keeping track of events like these. It's easy to suggest that it is not about us but of course it is. And our students.

(I like the rain backdrop.)

Summer runnin' down