Violent Arrests Made At Prayerful Gathering to Support Berkeley Tree-Sit
Indigenous Peoples Decry Human Rights Abuses
By Morning Star Gali
Berkeley, CA -- Three people were violently arrested by University of California (UC) police officers at a midnight prayer vigil at the long-standing Oak Grove tree-sit on UC Berkeley's campus. More than 40 people, led by a group of Indigenous peoples, walked in procession to the Tree-sit to show support for Human Rights and Sacred sites and hold a prayerful candlelight vigil at the area, which is a sacred Ohlone burial ground.
"We heard that UC Berkeley wasn't allowing any food or water to be given to the tree sitters so we went to bear witness and offer our prayers," said Jimbo Simmons of the International Indian Treaty Council. "We were offering prayers and tobacco for the defense of this sacred Ohlone site and held a peaceful vigil for about an hour, then we witnessed one of the tree-sitters being violently attacked by a police officer. More officers arrived wielding batons and were very aggressive, they pushed me and abusively arrested two other people." Simmons stated.
In the peaceful actions that lead up to the arrests, members of the diverse group of supporters made an offering of ceremonial sage, water, food and prayer songs to the tree-sitters to resist illegal sanctions of food and water placed by the University.
Earlier in the day, University officials declared that no food, water, or "objects" could be delivered to the forest defenders, in an attempt to starve the resisters out of the trees.
"We came out to pray and offer medicine," said Morning Star Gali of the Pit River Tribe and part of the Native American NAGPRA Coalition. "The cops responded with riot gear and violence."
"This exhibits the ongoing Human Rights abuses committed by the University. They refuse to comply with NAGPRA by holding 13,000 of our ancestors remains and now they assault us while we pray at our burial grounds."
An hour into the vigil, one of the tree-sitters came down to see what was going on and a security officer grabbed his leg and violently pulled him to the ground from the tree he was in. The officer brutalized the tree-sitter for up to 5 minutes within the fenced area while pushing his face into the metal fence in front of the crowd.
Up to 30 additional police officers arrived, many in riot gear, some with shotguns. They proceeded to aggressively attack the peaceful crowd with batons, breaking the finger of a journalist and brutally arresting two more supporters.
At some point during the brutal police attack, both fences surrounding the tree-sit were apparently torn.
"This wasn't an isolated attack on our peaceful protest." Stated Ayr, a founder of the tree-sit.
Zachary Running Wolf, also a founder of the tree-sit, was arrested the previous night on charges of vandalism and trespassing, although he was not at the scene at the time of the alleged crimes.
"This is a clear issue of racial profiling and targeting of a well-known Indigenous activist." Said Ayr.
"With the addition of two fences and cutting off the tree-sitters access to food and water, the University is escalating the situation by choosing violence and confrontation instead of the peaceful resolutions that we have presented." Ayr stated.
The tree-sitters have agreed to come down if the University agrees to protect the site from any and all development.
"They put more fences up after they said they were going to take them all down 3 days ago.
They should immediately remove them and stop arresting the brave people defending this Sacred site. The University should also immediately release all political prisoners that have been arrested." Ayr Said.
The prayer vigil was held in anticipation of a pending court decision concerning the legality of UC Berkeley's plans.
Judge Barbara Miller is expected to return her decision any day in the multiple lawsuits against the stadium expansion project. UC Police are preparing for the violent extraction of all the tree sitters. UC Berkeley officials have stated that no matter what Judge Miller decides the University will try to end the tree-sit protest.
"What occurred tonight is a clear violation of our Human Rights." Stated Jimbo Simmons. "As native people we pray, as Sundancers we pray to the trees, to Grandfather and to Creator. Some have used the tree as a way of communicating with the Creator. The trees represent part of that connection. The threat of these trees being cut down is also a violation of our rights."
"We'll be continuing to go to the Oak Grove to offer our prayers. Is this how the police are going to respond?" Stated Mr. Simmons.
The three individuals that were arrested last night will appear at the Wiley Manuel Courthouse in Department 107 at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 15, 2007.
The courthouse is located at 661 Washington St. on 6th and Washington in Downtown Oakland.
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Censored News is published by censored journalist Brenda Norrell. A journalist for 27 years, Brenda lived on the Navajo Nation for 18 years, writing for Navajo Times, AP, USA Today, Lakota Times and other American Indian publications. After being censored and then terminated by Indian Country Today in 2006, she began the Censored Blog to document the most censored issues. She currently serves as human rights editor for the U.N. OBSERVER & International Report at the Hague and contributor to Sri Lanka Guardian, Narco News and CounterPunch. She was cohost of the 5-month Longest Walk Talk Radio across America, with Earthcycles Producer Govinda Dalton in 2008: www.earthcycles.net/
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