UC Berkeley Riot Police Use Batons to Clear Students from Sproul Plaza

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The unarmed 'Occupy Cal' protesters were ousted from their encampment late Wednesday, but regrouped for a mass rally and sit-in



In iconic Sproul Plaza, many hundreds or perhaps thousands of UC Berkeley students and Occupy Oakland activists clashed with university police late into the night Wednesday, after officers carried out instructions from administrators to clear Occupy Cal protesters from their makeshift encampment. "We formed a human barricade around our tents, and they just beat their way through it with batons," said one student. "It really, really hurt - I got the wind knocked out of me," another protester, doctoral student Shane Boyle, told the San Francisco Chronicle, showing the reporter a red welt on his chest. "I was lucky I only got hit twice," he added.

"After warning protesters that camping at the university is illegal, officers moved in and shoved demonstrators out of the way as they pushed toward the camp," the Contra Costa Times reported. "Six UC Berkeley students and an associate professor were arrested; charges included resisting officers and failing to disperse." The police succeeded in clearing away tents, but protesters refused to leave the plaza, insisting that they'd camp there with or without equipment. Protesters with smartphones took turns webcasting video from the scene, and ultimately voted around 1 am to approve a University of California-wide general strike to be held Tuesday of next week.

It took a couple hours to settle on that plan. Around 11:30 pm, students were massed in the plaza shouting at perhaps a couple hundred officers.

Quoth one chant, "Your families will see this."

Only afterward did they begin deliberating en masse.

The scene played out in a space most famous as ground zero during the 1964 Free Speech Movement. Sproul Plaza has since seen anti-Vietnam War sit-ins, anti-apartheid rallies, anti-Iraq War protests, and any number of smaller activist gatherings. A stroll through the plaza on an average day when school is in session is as colorful a scene as there is on campus, as student groups advertise, activists hand out leaflets, and nearby drum circles beat away.

The Daily Cal explains what precipitated the day's events:

The campuswide day of action in support of affordable higher education and the Occupy movement has grown throughout the day to over a thousand students at its peak in the early afternoon, from teach-outs in the morning to a noontime rally that was attended by about 1,000 people.

The protest activities thus far have mirrored past protests with teach-outs and a rally on Sproul Plaza, but in addition to a focus on state budget cuts and the affordability of higher education, the protest has strongly identified with the national Occupy movement and included a march to Bank of America on Telegraph Avenue.

The video at the top of this post captures a violent clash that occurred earlier in the day, when police aggressively pummeled student protesters with their batons. Said Matt Welch, editor of Reason magazine, "Watch cops at Occupy Berkeley launch coordinated baton attack against unarmed students."    

As midnight approached, police were summoning reinforcements as protesters chanted, "The chancellor took our tents, but look, we took the plaza." Said another speaker: "Police are not our enemy in this fight. We must above all remain peaceful." The "human microphone" was later seized by an OWS ally from across the bay. "Occupy SF has brought some wifi," he said. "If you want the password come up here -- I can't give it to everyone including the police." Activists live-streaming from the scene at midnight claimed around 10,000 viewers as one protester after another began calling for a University of California-wide all student strike. The proposal was debated via the human microphone, and ultimately passed with 569 in favor and 31 against.

One observer estimated that about half the people present participated in the vote.

In related news, The Oakland Tribune reported the following just before Wednesday's events:

Citing excessive force and free speech violations by police during protests in Oakland and at UC Berkeley, the Berkeley City Council this week refused a mutual aid agreement with university police and nixed agreements with other police agencies on regional domestic surveillance. Council members used news reports of police using excessive force at the Occupy Oakland protests and at previous protests at UC Berkeley as reason for not renewing the agreements that usually are approved each year without fanfare.

In addition, the council did not renew an agreement with the federal government on detaining illegal immigrants at the city jail. The 8-0 vote, with Mayor Tom Bates abstaining, means the council will revisit those agreements at a later date after scrutinizing them more thoroughly.

University of California campuses are patrolled by state police officers.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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