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Activist to UC Police: No Need to Escalate the Situation

This story is developing. Click the "Keep me posted" button below for an update when we publish future stories on this topic. See all the Gill Tract stories at http://patch.com/bvbHo.

[Editor's Note: See the most up-to-date tweets and photographs on Twitter here via Albany Patch.]

UPDATE: 2:18 p.m.

Activists at Occupy the Farm said a group of supporters is planning to march from the North Berkeley BART station to the Gill Tract at 6 p.m. on Wednesday. At 1:35 p.m., the University of California against individuals and unnamed members described as being part of the Occupy the Farm activities. .

UPDATE, 12:06 p.m.

Just before noon, a group of 20-30 activists convened a strategy session at the Gill Tract.

There was somewhat of a lull in the activity after a busy morning, with fewer police and members of the media remaining on scene. 

Lt. Eric Tejada, University of California Police Department spokesman, told Patch by phone that, "Our operation this morning was simply to control unauthorized vehicle traffic moving in and out of the (Gill Tract) area. Our operation was not to remove individuals. We did say if you assault an officer you will be subject to a use of force that may include pepper spray or the use of a baton. We did not say we would go in and spray willy nilly."

He said the University of California Police were acting in keeping with university standards, which require an advance announcement of a police action.

A bit earlier in the day, we caught up with , an Albany resident who has supported the activities of Occupy the Farm . 

McKnight is part of a newly-formed group called the Albany Farm Alliance. The group, which McKnight said is made up of 35-40 families, announced itself publicly at the Albany City Council meeting on Monday night.

McKnight said Wednesday that he was somewhat dismayed by the police announcement earlier in the morning that authorities would use chemical agents against people who interfered with their efforts.

(Police blocked off access to the west side of the Gill Tract early Wednesday, locking the fence and installing a concrete barrier on Jackson Street.)

McKnight said the police announcement about chemical agents was unnecessary, as members of Occupy the Farm had informed the University of California earlier this week that they planned to vacate the Gill Tract and set up camp to the south.

"We're pleading with police not to escalate this," he said. "Until now, the reaction to police here has been peaceful. Police have been peaceful. Why would they want to put out a statement that would escalate that?"

McKnight added that, until Wednesday morning, he had been "very impressed" by the way the university and its police had handled the occupation.

"It would be perfect if it wasn't for that statement," he said. "Of course, we don't think they need to be here at all."

McKnight said members of Occupy the Farm had been consistent in the past two weeks about making sure the university knew of their plans for the Gill Tract, so that nothing came as a surprise.

"We're still gonna water. We're still gonna take care of the crops. We're still gonna take care of the children's garden," he said. Adding the statement about chemical agents, he added, "was just not necessary."

UPDATE, 10:14 a.m.

Former mayor, and current paid a visit to the Gill Tract earlier this morning to send a strong message to police about her expectations for their behavior at the site. 

"It's unacceptable for them to use force here," she said. "Using chemical agents on the young people here, with children nearby at Ocean View, it's not what we heard previously."

Wile said her understanding had been that the University of California planned to work collaboratively with Occupy the Farm to find a solution.

"Talking about using chemical agents, that's not an indication of collaboration, in my mind," she said.

Wile said she came to the Gill Tract to speak with a UC police lieutenant; she said, after going to look for him, that he seemed to have "mysteriously disappeared."

Wile said during Monday night's City Council meeting, after more than an hour of public comment, mostly in support of the Gill Tract, that she planned to work with the city manager to come up with a resolution regarding urban farming on the land.

She said Wednesday that, though nothing had been finalized, her hope was that the resolution would serve to bring people to the table to work together in support of urban farming.

University spokesman Dan Mogulof said that Wednesday morning's announcement by police about the possible use of chemical agents at the Gill Tract was not intended to intimidate.

He said the Robinson-Edley report recommended that campus officers warn protesters of possible consequences of not obeying the law.

“This is standard notification, it was not a threat.”

UPDATE, 8:27 a.m.

Activists are planting dry farm tomatoes in Miguel Altieri's plots in the Gill Tract after a flurry of activity this morning when police closed off one entrance to the site and brought in concrete barriers. 

(See tweets and photographs from the morning here via Albany Patch.)

Lesley Haddock of Occupy the Farm said police told activists they weren't planning to arrest anyone today, but that they were planning to evict people from the Gill Tract.

"It looks like we'll be able to continue farming," she said. "We're still picking up our shovels and helping with his planting."

Altieri had with a group of students this morning to work with activists to plant about 1,500 dry-farm tomatoes. 

He said his goal had been to show the university that research and the occupation could coexist, but that he wasn't sure about bringing in his students given the police presence. Altieri, a professor since 1981, said he didn't want to put any of them in harm's way, or put them in a position that would threaten their coursework. 

Activists have been taking down Altieri's cover crop of fava beans, and digging up the soil in his plots to plant tomatoes. 

Altieri added that "all the other researchers" on the Gill Tract are adjunct faculty affiliated with the USDA.

"They don't have an academic title," he told several filmmakers. "I'm the only one. They don't have the same rights."

Around 7:30 a.m., activists coordinated to move many tents and camp items to the lot south of Village Creek. 

Altieri said that had been "the plan all along," to leave the agricultural land clear for the other researchers. 

He said he didn't know if the activists planned to stay on the southern lot or not. 

Multiple news agencies and helicopters came to the site to report on the morning's police activity. 

University of California police officers remained around the site, keeping watch over the entrances and filming people who walked in and out of the site on the eastern side of the access road. 

They had closed off the western entrance to the side, near Ocean View School, but left the eastern entrance to the access road slightly open to allow people to enter and exit.

"This morning officers from UCPD placed concrete barriers blocking vehicle access, stopping vehicles from coming in and off our property. This happened without incident and without arrest," said UC spokesman Dan Mogulof. 

Just after the police arrived, several activists piled up sleeping bags and other posessions on the outside of the Gill Tract fence. They said they removed them from the site to protect them from seizure. 

As of 8:45 a.m., it appeared that at least 40 people remained at the site working and preparing for the day. 

6:47 a.m.

An early-morning text went out from Occupy the Farm on Wednesday describing developing police activity at the Gill Tract. 

According to the 6:24 a.m. message, "UC police just locked the West gate to the Farm. They barricaded the East gate to San Pablo. No arrests but 'chemical agents' will be used on those who interfere."

A second message followed just before 6:40 a.m.: "Looks like UCPD is staging to raid the Farm. Please mobilize. Come to the Gill Tract if you can."

Via AnonCodeframe on Twitter: "URGENT! #ucpd locking entrances to #OccupyTheFarm with ulocks and padlocks! Threatened use of chemical agents if interfered with. We need people down here NOW"

AnonCodeframe said he or she would be "live-streaming" from the Gill Tract, as of 6:11 a.m., but the page for the live stream was down as of 6:37 a.m. with the following message: "The service is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later."

Another live stream was broadcasting as of 6:45 a.m.

This story will be updated as soon as possible, but visit Albany Patch on Twitter for updates, or check #occupythefarm search results

Click the "Keep me posted" button below for an update when we publish future stories on this topic. Read more on Albany Patch about the Gill Tract occupation

If there's something in this article you think , or if something else is amiss, call editor Emilie Raguso at 510-459-8325 or email her at albany@patch.com.

Mina Gobler May 11, 2012 at 03:26 AM
If the farm occupiers think the University is not serious, I suggest that they think again. I was in the courtroom when three Berkeley students were on trial for resisting attempts by school police to get them to leave a demonstration at the school last spring. The three students were convicted! What do you think this has done for their career opportunities? Actions have consequences and if you're not aware of and willing to accept the consequences, I suggest that you leave the property.
lubov mazur May 11, 2012 at 03:30 AM
It is all summed up just after minute 12 in this TED talk. Apologies for the language to those sensitive souls offended by the scant but present profanity. http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/james_howard_kunstler_dissects_suburbia.html
Kirsten Schwartz May 11, 2012 at 04:06 AM
Martha, thank you; I appreciate the apology. But you DID say "all": "Albanian Patch commentators, your privilege is showing." As a recent arrival (six months? That's not much) you might refrain from that kind of language. Privilege: I wish! That's why a lot of us are angry at the invasion: we've lived here for years and respected that property, and suddenly a bunch of people grant themselves the Privilege to take it over. (And to be a real bitch, I might point out some spelling errors--the kind of writing errors that can make a reader think twice about such a writer's intelligence: Targeted. Friendliness. Kirsten.) So thanks, but you did include me, you did write insultingly about me, and you may try to extricate yourself with an apology--but it just won't wash.
Kirsten Schwartz May 14, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Neo, looking back over the history of our discussion in order to do a count of Albanyans against the Farm, I noticed this comment. A bit like W's Mission Accomplished mistake as we notice from 20/20 hindsight . . . .
Mary Flaherty June 05, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Sorry for this late addition, but wanted to share info. from a May interview with the Dean of the College of Natural Resources regarding the quote from Miguel Altieri in this story, that "all the other researchers" on the Gill Tract are adjunct faculty affiliated with the USDA, and "They don't have an academic title. I'm the only one. They don't have the same rights." Keith Gilless, Dean of the CNR, which oversees the Gill Tract, says that’s not so. “It’s a very disrespectful statement, about people I consider integral members of the department,” Gilless said. The geneticists include Sarah Hake, an adjunct professor and Frank Harmon an associate adjunct professor. Both are also researchers at the Plant Gene Expression Center (at the USDA). It’s true, that as adjunct (non-tenure track faculty) they do not belong to the Berkeley Academic Senate, a body of tenured professors that participates in university governance. However, Gilless said, "adjunct professor" and "associate adjunct professor" are academic titles. “They are faculty who have all the rights of faculty. Academic freedom applies to everyone here,” he said.

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