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Tree-Sitter Arrested Upon Descending

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday March 18, 2008
Fresh led away by campus police after ending his tree-sit.
Doug Buckwald
Fresh led away by campus police after ending his tree-sit.

UC Berkeley’s local tree-sitter Michael Schuck—who calls himself Fresh—climbed down from his leafy perch outside Wheeler Hall Friday and was promptly arrested by university police for trespassing. He was issued a citation and released later that day. 

Schuck climbed an oak tree on Feb. 28 to draw attention to several campus issues, including what he said was the undemocratic structure of the UC Board of Regents, native remains being held by the Hearst Museum of Anthropology, the lack of a living wage for the university’s custodians, rising tuition and the need to end UC’s involvement in nuclear technology. 

The Facebook group Students Against Hippies in Trees, which boasts that it has 600 members, sent out a letter Friday morning organizing a noon rally against Schuck at the site. 

The group’s message to supporters read: “The real name of the tree-sitter, ‘Fresh’ is actually Michael Schuck, so the rally cry shall be ‘Michael Schuck, you SUCK!’ An acceptable alternative is ‘F__ Schuck!’” 

Around noon Friday, supporters of Schuck turned up to counter the Facebook group and formed a circle near his barricaded tree for open dialogue. 

About a hundred students crowded near them as UC policemen kept watch. Tree-sitters from the neighboring Memorial Stadium Oak Grove—protesting the university’s plans to raze the oaks to build an athletic training center—joined local activists to support Schuck, a former UC Berkeley student. 

Although UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogoluf couldn’t confirm whether Schuck had gone to UC Berkeley, several people remembered him as a fighter for the university’s boxing team. 

“That’s Mike Schuck from Southern California,” said Gregory Pedemonte, who had worked with Schuck on the boxing team. “He fought for UC Berkeley for two years … Very bright kid … Always a crowd pleaser. Got into the semi-finals of the 2002 National Collegiate Boxing Association Championship and beat the defending champion—a Navy guy. Then he left school to go on a soul-searching journey to India with his girlfriend. When he came back, he was a changed guy. He looked like something straight out of Haight Ashbury in the 1960s.” 

A few Hare Krishnas played tambourines and Indian dhol drums as curious onlookers stopped by to ask questions. 

“He’s raising the issue right at the heart of almost every disagreement that the community has with the University of California,” said Save the Oaks at the Stadium director Doug Buchwald. “The UC regents are not accountable to anybody … Not to students, not to faculty, not to the community. The make-up of the regents is required to reflect the diversity in our state—economic, cultural, social and ethnic—and the balance of men and women. That has never been true since they were created and it is time the regents decided to obey the law and follow the requirement of the state constitution.” 

As students debated about the democratization of the regents and other related issues, Schuck moved from one branch to the other and answered questions from people. 

“He’s trespassing,” said Mogoluf. “The fact is he is not a current UC Berkeley student. The university has always been pretty tolerant to protests, but when you are taking over the university’s property, you are crossing the line. Today it’s a tree, what if they take over a lab tomorrow?” 

Mogoluf said that he had never heard of the Facebook group who had organized the rally. 

“It’s mainly made up of frat boys,” he said. “I do know that a significant number of students are perplexed by this. A small group of students are sympathetic with the tree-sitter, but the ASUC has supported the university’s position to build the athletic facility … there have been three editorials in the student newspaper condemning the tree sitters.” 

UC Police Department (UCPD) Assistant Chief Mitch Celaya told the Planet that Schuck had been given ample opportunity to climb down from the tree without facing arrest, but had ignored it. 

“He kept saying he would come down but never did,” he said. “Then we barricaded the tree to prevent individuals from contributing to the trespassing.” 

Sara Free Laughtin, one of the students participating in the dialogue, blamed the tree-sit on the police. 

“Fresh went up to put up the banner ‘democratize the students’ but at the end of the day the UC police said they would arrest him if he came down,” she said. 

“So he just stayed up there.” 

“Fresh is criminal,” posters stood side by side with banners reading “Does your grandmother know you are at a hate rally?”  

“It’s not OK that our university is wasting taxpayer money on this,” said Calum Wright, a UC Berkeley student. “I don’t want him on a tree in our campus.” 

“Would it be OK for me, a student, to climb up on a tree?” asked sophomore Suman Gupta in response. 

A little after 1 p.m., Schuck climbed down and was handcuffed by UC police officers. He was released around 2:15 p.m. with a warning to stay away from the campus for 7 days. 

His court date is set for April 16.