Union members and supporters stand outside the Berkeley Police station Thursday evening, awaiting the release of UC worker David Cole, who was arrested at a demonstration earlier. Photo: David Yee

The arrest of a UC Berkeley employee during a union demonstration Thursday prompted outcry by students and workers who say police used excessive force.

UC Berkeley cook David Cole was detained around noon at the intersection of Bancroft and Telegraph, where he and about 100 other members of AFSCME, the largest UC union, which represents service workers, were picketing for the fair treatment of campus employees.

According to a statement by UC Berkeley spokesman Roqua Montez, Cole “ran toward an occupied vehicle that was making its way through the intersection and threw the sign he was carrying at the vehicle.”

AFSCME spokesman John de los Angeles said the car had begun to “push through the crowd and make contact with the picketers, who were occupying the intersection,” according to other protesters. Someone did throw something at the car, he said, but pointed out that Cole was still holding his sign after the incident. De los Angeles said the driver circled the block, then got out of the car and identified Cole.

According to Montez, “At that point, [Cole] began to advance in the direction of the driver in a threatening and aggressive manner and had to be stopped by other protesters. The driver of the vehicle later flagged down a police officer for assistance and complained that the suspect had damaged his car.”

A video circled online shows three UC police officers wrestling Cole to the ground. He sustained a cut on his forehead during the arrest and was treated by the Berkeley Fire Department before being transported to Highland Hospital, according to Montez. Cole was then booked at the Berkeley Jail, cited for vandalism and resisting arrest, and released around 6:35 p.m.

“When a UCPD officer attempted to detain the suspect, he became non-cooperative and repeatedly disregarded lawful instructions from the officer,” said Montez in his statement. “UCPD officers then moved to physically detain him. Due to the suspect’s resistance, multiple officers were needed to take him into custody.”

Following the arrest, protesters gathered outside UC Berkeley’s California Hall to demand information about Cole’s whereabouts and later called for his release from jail. Organizers shared the video clip of his arrest online, saying it demonstrated police brutality.

CW: police brutality, anti-Black state violence.

Video clip shows the moment @UCBerkeley worker David Cole is brutally assaulted and arrested by UCPD.

There is no excuse for this. There’s only justice, and anyone unwilling to fight for it is passively against it. pic.twitter.com/jsMu6Icr0w

— juan alfredo | anti-fascist (@immig_rant) February 2, 2018

UCPD and the campus administration always see the use of force as unfortunate and it is used only when necessary to protect the community and the officers involved in carrying out their duties,” Montez said. He said UCPD will review the incident, as the department does any time force is used and urged the public to send any information about the arrest.

The union picket was meant to call attention to poor the compensation of UC employees, and protest proposed tuition hikes, de los Angeles said. A state audit last year found the UC Office of the President paid top executives and administrators excessive salaries and failed to disclose a $175 million reserve fund, while employee wages remained stagnant, according to de los Angeles.

“The simple fact of the matter is many of our workers can’t afford necessities or even to live near work,” said de los Angeles.

UC Berkeley cook David Cole is greeted by supporters after he was released from the Berkeley Jail on Thursday evening. Photo: David Yee

The union picked Feb. 1 as the date of its protest because it was the 50th anniversary of the deaths of Memphis, Tennessee sanitation workers Echol Cole and Robert Walker. The deaths led to a strike by black sanitation workers, who were paid less and treated worse than their white colleagues. The strike brought Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis, where he was assassinated.

AFSCME chapters around the country protested Thursday, each holding moments of silence for the late Memphis workers, de los Angeles said.

“It’s a shame that on a civil-rights anniversary honoring a guy named Echol Cole, that 50 years later we’re dealing with the same problems with another man named Cole,” he said. “The irony is too much.”

Cole has not made a public statement about the incident.

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...