Did Police go too far with clashes at Berkeley?

Demonstrators at the University of California Berkeley were assaulted by police on Wednesday night for failing to leave a peaceful encampment they attempted to establish in solidarity with the nationwide Occupy Wall Street movement.

In conjunction with the Occupy protests, demonstrators in Berkeley rallied yesterday against corporate greed and corrupt financial institutions on the historic campus, which was instrumental in the free speech movement of the 1960s. Amanda Armstrong, an organizer of yesterday’s protests, told the school’s Daily Cal paper that the occupation of the campus was also to oppose the increased privatization of the school.

“Because tuition is rising, education now belongs to the greedy,” UC Berkeley senior Naomi Santacruz adds to Daily Cal. “Inequality arises from people unable to get an education.”

The paper notes that among the signs over 1,000 demonstrators held up throughout the day were ones with slogans including “Education is a debt sentence.” Chants of “No cuts, no fees, education must be free,” were rallied as well. A march led by organizers to a local Bank of American branch early in the day led to the facility being shut-down.

Administration officials responded to the protesters by agreeing to let demonstrators stay on school property, but forbid them from erecting any sort of shelter or using sleeping bags, a move which would keep the students from starting an encampment like the ones in hundreds of cities across the world aligned to the Occupy movement. In a vote from Occupy Cal organizers early in the day, however, protesters decided to pitch tents on school property, despite those orders from the administration to refrain from doing so.

"The university supports the efforts of any group to speak out freely, but everyone is expected to follow campus policies, the law and respect the rights of others to go to class, to teach, to do their work," campus spokeswoman Janet Gilmore said in a statement.

Seven arrests were made in the afternoon after demonstrators set up three tents on the school’s Sproul Plaza. Later in the evening, however, protesters pitched more tents, an action which was met by harsh police retaliation.

Video from throughout the course of events show police attacking protesters with batons, bluntly striking them in their abdomens and elsewhere. Some footage has also surfaced in which police are clearly seen striking protesters, unprovoked, from behind.

“We were linked arms, peacefully, when they were stabbing and beating people as hard as they could, it hurt really bad when they got me in the stomach,” Ashley Pinkerton, a student at UC Berkeley, tells Daily Cal after being beat by the police.

"It just seems unnecessary. We weren't doing anything. We were just standing there with a bunch of tents," Shadrick Small, a 25-year-old UC Berkeley student adds to CBS News. "We're not vandalizing. We're not burning anything. And their first response is just to come in and start hitting people. The reaction is just over the top. It's an overreaction."

Wednesday’s events came as a solidarity protest aligned with the ongoing, now international Occupy Wall Street movement, which began over 50 days ago in New York City. A week before yesterday’s incidents, protesters in nearby Oakland, California held a general strike, affectively shutting down the city’s massive shipping port and many local businesses. During that incident, the second of two-so-far American Military veterans were significant injured by police.

Several injuries were reported at Berkeley yesterday and at least one protester was admitted to a medical facility for treatment. Even after the assaults, however, demonstrators continued to occupy the campus into the evening to mark the first day of their protest.

"Police don't usually act violently the first day of a camp going up," graduate student Andrew Snyder tells the San Francisco Chronicle. "This just shows us how afraid they are of the Occupy movement."

By the end of Wednesday, 39 arrests were reported in all, says UCPD Lt. Alex Yao to the school’s Daily Cal paper. The officer added that Celeste Langan, an associate professor at UC Berkeley's Townsend Center for the Humanities, was among the detained.