UC Berkeley Budget Cut Protest Turns Violent

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday February 26, 2010 - 01:44:00 PM

An open-air dance party at UC Berkeley turned violent Thursday night when protesters occupied a campus building, clashed with police officers, broke windows and set dumpsters on fire. 

Berkeley police said that at least two people were arrested for inciting riots and vandalizing private property. 

Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Andrew Frankel said both BPD and the UC Police Department are investigating the incident. 

Reports started trickling in around 11:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25 that a group of people had occupied Durant Hall in support of the scheduled March 4 statewide “Day of Action” to protest cuts to education. 

Durant Hall is currently closed for construction. 

UC Berkeley officials said that after cutting the locks off the south gates, about half the group entered the building, resumed partying and began vandalizing the interior and exterior of the building, writing slogans on the walls and breaking windows and a skylight. 

Others gathered in front of the hall’s doors, preventing UC Berkeley police from entering, university officials said. 

Frankel said the Berkeley Police Department got a phone call at 1:41 a.m. Friday from UCPD asking for emergency response to deal with a crowd of 200 protesters who were making their way to the intersection of Durant and Telegraph avenues. 

The crowd was beginning to break windows and overturn dumpsters and could not be controlled, Frankel said. 

“They were basically committing acts of vandalism in our city,” he said. 

Most of the city’s on-duty Berkeley police officers responded to the scene where they were met by a hostile crowd who began throwing rocks and bottles at them. 

One officer was struck in the thigh by a fire extinguisher and another was struck in the neck with a metal cap from a fire hydrant resulting in minor injuries, Frankel said. 

At 1:51 a.m., the rioters lit a dumpster and pushed it into the intersection of Bancroft Avenue and Telegraph, Frankel said. 

“The police started to put the fire out by moving the crowd away from the intersection,” he said. At this point Berkeley police officers began calling for off-duty police officers as well as assistance from the Oakland Police Department, the California Highway Patrol and the Bay Area Rapid Transit, 

A total of 12 officers from OPD, 10 from CHP and five from BART, along with officers from UCPD, helped BPD remove the crowd from the intersection so that the Berkeley Fire Department could douse the flames. 

“During the course of the last one hour, the police were pelted with projectiles including rocks, bottles and fire extinguishers,” Frankel said. “When enough officers began moving the crowd it gradually dispersed.” 

Police arrested UC Berkeley student Marika Goodrich, 28, and booked her for assault on a peace officer, inciting a riot and resisting arrest. She is being held on $32,500 bail. 

They also arrested Berkeley resident Zachary Miller, 26, and booked him for inciting a riot, resisting arrest and obstructing a peace officer. He is being held on $22,500 bail. 

Frankel said that so far there has been one report of vandalism from the owners of the Subway restaurant in the 2300 block of Telegraph, which had two of its glass doors shattered during the riot. 

There were five separate incidents of arson, with a dumpster set on fire in each case in the vicinity of Telegraph, Bancroft Durant and College, he said. 

UCPD also reported severe property damage, Frankel said. Calls to UCPD for comment were not returned by press time. 

Christine Shaff, director of communications for UC Berkeley Facilities Services, said that the vandalized Durant Hall site has been secured and is being assessed for damage. 

Thursday’s incident took place on the last day of Rolling University week on the Berkeley campus, a series of events not unlike the Open University held last year, where students held open forums, discussions, pot lucks and performances. 

UC Berkeley senior Asaf Shalev, who witnessed the protest last night, said the crowd from the dance party started moving towards Durant Hall around 11: 30 p.m. 

“All of a sudden, they saw the gate was open and found some students up in the building who had a banner saying March 4,” he said. “At that point there was music, people were dancing and there was very little police presence. At some point people started to walk away from the construction site and toward Telegraph with a shopping cart blaring music.” 

They formed a line and linked arms at Durant and Telegraph, Shalev said. “The scene was very chaotic, and suddenly a couple of people were grabbed by police.” 

Shalev said the occupiers at Durant Hall had released a statement which said they were protesting the state cuts to public education and the UC administration’s decision to construct more buildings on campus. 

Shalev said students were angry that their tuition was being “used as collateral for construction bonds.” 

“Buildings are being built with our money,” he said. “UC regents have a conflict of interest with many of these projects.” 

In a message to the campus community, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau condemned the vandalism and violence. “Such action does incredible damage to our advocacy efforts with Sacramento and with the California public to preserve public higher education,” Birgeneau said. “We call on our campus community to work together to express our support for state reinvestment in public higher education in ways that uphold Berkeley’s values of peaceful protest and freedom of expression.”