Flash: UC Police Arrest 66 Protesters at Wheeler Hall

By Riya Bhattacharjee and Raymond Barglow
Friday December 11, 2009 - 12:32:00 PM
UCPD keep watch outside Wheeler Hall. Police are only allowing authorized faculty and staff to enter the building where protesters were arrested today morning.
Ray Barglow
UCPD keep watch outside Wheeler Hall. Police are only allowing authorized faculty and staff to enter the building where protesters were arrested today morning.

This morning (Friday) at about 4:30 AM UC police entered Wheeler Hall and began arresting activists who were staying there overnight as part of continuing protests against budget cuts and fee hikes.   

Protesters have been staging an “open occupation” at Wheeler since Monday, holding talks, discussions, hip hop performances and other events as part of their effort to create an open university that is not only for the people, but by the people.  

At least 66 were arrested and taken to Santa Rita Jail. They are expected to be released sometime today.   

Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the reason for the arrests was that the demonstrators were going to hold a hip-hop party this evening that would go on indefinitely into tomorrow morning.  

But the demonstrators and their supporters said that they had received assurances from the police earlier in the week that they would be allowed to remain in Wheeler, so they believed that this police action was entirely unnecessary and illegitimate.   

The “open university,” its supporters said, was entirely peaceful, non-disruptive of normal activities going on in Wheeler Hall, and hence an exercise in free speech.   

At the very least, said those who were gathering in front of Wheeler at mid-morning today prior to a scheduled rally at noon, there could have been negotiations with the administration about the planned party and other “open university” activities.   

UC Berkeley sent out a press release at 10:35 a.m. saying that at least 66 trespassing students and other protesters had been arrested Friday morning, the same day the group was set to hold an unauthorized concert inside a classroom building. 

The press release said that protesters were arrested without incident at 4:40 a.m. for misdemeanor trespassing inside Wheeler Hall and transported to Santa Rita jail. 

The university said the group included “approximately 41 individuals believed to be UC Berkeley students and 24 individuals not affiliated with the campus.” 

Another individual seeking to cause a disruption outside Wheeler Hall was also arrested, bringing the total arrest count to 66. 

The statement said that “the protesters, who have maintained an illegal, though largely non-disruptive, 24-hour presence inside Wheeler Hall since Monday, claimed to be doing so in the name of “opening the university.” 

It said that since entering Wheeler Hall Monday, the protesters set up information tables inside the building, laid up food and refreshments, posted banners, strummed guitars, watched movies, played late-night music and declared the building an “open university.” 

The statement said that “earlier in the week, they appeared to be taking steps to ensure that their activities would not conflict with classroom review sessions underway inside the building.” 

Later in the week, “the group began publicizing plans for an unauthorized all-night concert featuring guest artists and a DJ—an event that threatened to disrupt final examinations that are scheduled to take place in that same building tomorrow,” the statement said. 

Although campus staff talked to event organizers about the issue, the statement said, “the protesters vowed to go forward.” 

Publicity materials distributed by the group stated that the concert would start Friday night and go on till 8 a.m. Saturday and 

until “the cops kick in the doors.” 

Final examinations are scheduled to begin inside Wheeler Hall at 9 a.m. Saturday. 

“Once the group refused to reconsider plans to hold an unauthorized all-night concert in an academic building, we had to take steps to ensure that finals could go forward,” said Dan Mogulof, campus spokesman. “Our primary responsibility is to the campus’s core academic mission and the 35,000 students who are not participating in the protest.” 

Business hours for Wheeler Hall, which has one of the largest number of classrooms on campus, is until 10 p.m. daily. 

The statement from UC Berkeley said that the trespassers—ranging from a dozen to several dozen at any given time this week—were not authorized to hold events or sleep overnight in the building, and were cautioned by police that their actions could lead to arrest and student conduct code penalties. 

Friday’s arrests come in the wake of the Nov. 20 Wheeler Hall occupation, arrests and allegations of police brutality which was documented by scores of people on their cameras and cell phones. More than a 100 UC Berkeley professors signed a letter condemning the action. The UC Berkeley administration promised to set up an independent review panel to investigate the allegations of police force. 

On Friday, campus police and security personnel were keeping watch outside Wheeler, barring anyone except authorized faculty and staff from entering. 

The university said that classroom review sessions which were scheduled to take place at Wheeler would instead take place at a nearby building as indicated on fliers posted outside. 

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau issued a statement expressing his appreciation to the UC Police Department, “for the very patient and professional way in which they handled this week's events at Wheeler Hall. They managed several days and nights of occupation with foremost concern for the safety of our campus community and early this morning helped bring about a peaceful end to the takeover of Wheeler Hall in a timely way so that final exams can proceed as scheduled tomorrow.”