You might remember ScooterGate, in which the University of Georgia (UGA) charged a student with "disruption" and "disorderly conduct" because he sent a mocking e-mail to UGA Parking Services to complain about the lack of campus parking spaces for scooters. Well, the University of California at Berkeley now has BikeGate—and it’s a great example of the abuse of police power to oppress free speech at UC Berkeley.
Here’s what happened: At UC Berkeley, the UC Police enforce a no-ride zone where riding bicycles is banned 10 hours a day (8 a.m. to 6 p.m.), Monday through Friday, "[i]n the area of Sproul and Dwinelle Plazas."
According to UC Berkeley’s Parking and Transportation Department, "Bicyclists must walk their bicycles in the Dismount Zone or be subject to citation."
So, on October 22, 2010, at about 11:15 a.m., UC Berkeley student James Allen saw Officer Sean Aranas of the UC Police Department (remember him?) riding his bike in the Dismount Zone. Allen shouted that Aranas should dismount. In response, Officer Aranas wrote up Allen for "Unauthorized Conduct." Here’s Officer Aranas’ official report of the incident:
I was on duty, in full police uniform, and was riding a marked patrol bicycle. I was riding 5-10 mph in Dwinell[e] Plaza. Subj. walk[ed] 7′ past me and said to me in a hostile voice, "Walk your fucking bicycle!" I ask[ed] subj. to stop and ID himself and he complied. Subj. confirmed he had been using profanity and talking to me because he did not believe police should ride bicycles in dismount zones.
Freddie Mercury would be so proud.
FIRE immediately began working with Allen to defend his right to tell an officer to get off of his bike in the Dismount Zone—even if the police have a special privilege to ride that is denied to all others. Fortunately, Allen learned late on Friday, more than a week after the incident, that Student Conduct and Community Standards (by the way, doesn’t that name sound a bit Orwellian?) had decided not to pursue any charges and that his disciplinary record would show no sign of the incident.
Putting aside the hilarity of the scenario and poor Officer Aranas’ feelings, UC Berkeley should be embarrassed that it uses its police powers to charge students with non-criminal offenses like "Unauthorized Conduct." Is UC Berkeley really one of those police states where "all that is not expressly permitted is forbidden"? In fact, the UC Berkeley Police Department has a special form for non-criminal Student Conduct Incident Referrals for "possible violations of the Berkeley Campus Code of Student Conduct," including academic offenses such as "Academic Dishonesty" and "Course Materials."
Not all police referrals lead to a big investigation, since the referrals are reviewed by the Center for Student Conduct and Community Standards, which then decides whether to "initiate a conduct process." Yet, if you ask me, the process has already been initiated: The student has received notice of the charge, and the student may participate in some kind of hearing. As the form states, "If you would like to participate in the resolution of this incident, please contact Student Conduct and Community Standards … within five days." Furthermore, the process can "result in outcomes [Wow!] and/or sanctions."
Despite what Officer Aranas apparently thinks, UC Berkeley is not quite a police state. Here’s what UC Berkeley actually defines as "Unauthorized Conduct":
Unauthorized entry to, possession of, receipt of, or use of any University services; equipment; resources; or properties, including the University’s name, insignia, or seal.
Let’s just hope and assume that students, faculty members, and random people walking through campus for public events don’t need special authorization to do the things that normal human beings do when they "use" various things on a college campus—so long as they don’t run into Officer Aranas.