The arrest of two black students, one from USF, on the University of California, Berkeley campus earlier this month has sparked renewed debate about alleged police misconduct.
What We Know
According to Cal’s daily crime log, at approximately 9:37 p.m. on March 8, two female students were stopped by two university police officers on Sproul Plaza, near Sather Gate.
The two students were Amya Brown from USF and Reanna Norman from Cal.
A March 19 statement by Cal’s Public Affairs Office stated the students were stopped by university police personnel, UCPD Officer Gabriel Irving and Sgt. Cris Olivet, who were responding to a report of an individual “visibly carrying a powerful stun device [commonly known as a taser].”
It is illegal to be in possession of a taser or stun device in the city of Berkeley.
The statement says that when an officer approached Norman and Brown, both denied possessing a stun weapon. Minutes later, Brown admitted to being in possession of one, which resulted in the two officers explaining that they needed to “take [the taser] from her” following the standard practice to ensure the safety of Brown and the officers.
The statement from Cal then says a “struggle ensued” when an officer attempted to retrieve the taser from Brown, and Norman intervened.
The Cal campus crime log indicates that both Brown and Norman were then arrested, cited for resisting arrest, and then subsequently released. Brown was additionally cited for “illegal possession of a taser on campus.”
The Alameda County District Attorney referred both of them to a “diversion program in lieu of prosecution.” According to the DA’s website, a diversion program means the students can complete counseling to avoid being charged in court.
Neither student involved in the incident responded to the Foghorn’s request for an interview.
Ten Days Later
News of the incident did not spread to the two universities until Cal’s Black Student Union (BSU) posted their own statement to Twitter and Instagram on March 18. USF’s BSU followed soon after, though the statements’ details differed.
The statement by Cal’s BSU said Brown and Norman were “brutalized” by UCPD, “forcefully searched,” and “thrown to the ground.” It finished by stating that neither of the students were initially read their Miranda rights until Norman asked during her interrogation that her rights be read to her.
“We demand that the charges against these students for resisting arrest are dropped immediately,” the Cal BSU’s statement stated. “Police terrorism is a direct threat to the safety, well-being and educational opportunity of ALL Black community members. An attack on one of us, is an attack on all of us.”
Cal BSU representatives did not respond to multiple interview requests.
USF’s BSU statement, posted to Instagram on March 19, referred readers to Cal BSU’s statement, but demanded more from USF itself. “We, as a BSU, only received this information today and are enraged at the fact that no action has been done to console these students.”
Ebony Azumah, president of USF’s BSU, said she read Cal’s statement before publishing their own. “Specifics of the event are still hazy considering the police report is the only official material,” she said.
Although a video recording of the event was referenced in both BSU’s statements, the Foghorn has not seen the video. Natalie Gray, the ASUSF Student of Color Representative, explained she had seen “parts” of the video. Neither Gray nor Azumah possesses the video nor the UCPD report.
ASUSF Senate and USF’s BSU released a solidarity statement in a campus-wide email on March 22 regarding the incident. Senate President Sage Hapke noted that the statement was authored by her, Azumah, Gray and former Senate President Reyna Brown.
Hapke declined to be interviewed.
“If you are not already standing up for black students, let this be the catalyst for you to start standing up for them,” Gray said in an interview.
Cal Takes Action, UCPD Chief Responds
In response to the incident, Cal students protested on March 20 at an on-campus café near where the incident occurred. The students condemned police brutality and demanded that both Norman and Brown’s charges be dropped.
As a result of student reaction to the arrests, Cal’s administration decided to investigate the incident. The status of the investigation is unknown.
Cal Vice Chancellor Marc Fisher commented in the March 19 statement. “We are committed to supporting a fair and thorough investigation, and to taking the steps necessary to maintain a relationship of trust with our community and our guests, while ensuring their safety.”
At a UC Berkeley student senate meeting, UCPD Chief Margo Bennett explained the officers’ point of view, that Officers Irving and Olivet responded to a call stating that two females on Sproul Plaza, near Sather Gate, had a taser and were “setting it off.”
Continuing to comment on the officers’ response to the incident, Chief Bennett noted, “[The student] became combative, and [the officer] used the level of force that was necessary in order to respond,” UCPD Chief Margo Bennett said. She said the officer didn’t do anything that would bring disciplinary action.
“It was only when the officer reached for [the taser] that things escalated really fast,” UCPD Chief Margo Bennett said. “Our officers show a tremendous amount of restraint. Most officers probably would’ve pushed back and drawn their weapons on that.”
Chief Bennett also told students that both officers involved in the incident still remain on the job.