Rain did not deter thousands of UC Berkeley students this afternoon as they surrounded the campus’ Wheeler Hall in support of about 50 protesters who have occupied the building since this morning in demonstration against the University of California’s 32 percent tuition fee hike.
As of 4:30 p.m., the students were still negotiating with campus officials, having outline three demands:
• Amnesty for all the students occupying Wheeler Hall.
• Amnesty for the three students arrested.
• All 38 laid-off UC Berkeley custodians be rehired.
UC Berkeley police entered the building earlier this morning and took control of the first floor as the protesters moved to the second floor. Three students who did not make it to the second floor were arrested by UC police.
UC and Berkeley police later put up barricades around the building and cordoned off much of the area with yellow tape. Students and police clashed near Sather Gate as the crowd surged toward the barricades and police used batons to fight them off.
Some students urged the crowd to remain peaceful, and faculty members at one point emerged from Wheeler Hall to inform that the crowd that the dean of students was in touch with UC Berkeley police and had guaranteed there would be no violence.
The Alameda County Sheriff's Department arrived in riot gear in the early afternoon and surrounded the hall.
Student leaders outside the building urged the crowd not to rush the students inside the hall, but to give them time to negotiate.
According to student leaders, the occupation was planned Thursday night, first at a 6 p.m. general assembly, and later in subcommittees meeting at various locations.
The protesters gathered at Wheeler Hall at 5 a.m. Friday and entered the building at 6 a.m.
At 9:30 this morning, students surrounded Wheeler Hall and linked arms, hoping to prevent protesters from being taken from the building and arrested.
The occupation of Wheeler seems to have galvanized the protest on its third day after seeing a significant decrease in participation Thursday.
Chancellor Birgeneau has declared Wheeler Hall closed until further notice. The main path through the campus is blocked where it passes the building.
Earlier this morning, police tried to move students further from Wheeler Hall. Lauren Cartwright told the Planet that when she refused to move back, police grabbed her. Other students held on to her and police relented, released her, and backed off a few feet.
Pegah Zardoos, an undergraduate who is on the board of Cal Berkeley Democrats, said she was “shocked and appalled by the police actions ... "
Business undergraduates Astrid Fernandes and Ameetah Mishna came to Wheeler Hall but could not get to their class. They then joined the protest and walked in the picket line.
"This occupation is a way, the only way, to get attention to what is going on,” Fernandes said.
Emily Ng, a graduate student in anthropology, joined the protest with two of her friends. “This is a public institution, after all,” Ng said. “We are taught to forget that we can affect the institutions in which we partake.”