Berkeley, California – Dozens of police in riot gear descended on UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza on Wednesday in two violent confrontations with student protesters that prevented them from building an Occupy encampment on the campus.
Campus police arrested seven protesters during an afternoon altercation at the plaza after protesters set up three tents, which police promptly tore down.
By evening, protesters had once again erected tents – this time there were seven. Students joined arms and chanted “hold the line” and “the whole world is watching” while police approached with batons and bean-bag guns. After a brief scuffle, police broke through their line and pulled down the tents. Then officers formed a perimeter on the steps of Sproul Hall.
Andrew Snyder, 25, a graduate student, was locked in arms with fellow protesters when he said he was “crushed” by police as they pushed toward the tents. He said he was surprised the police acted forcefully twice in one day.
“Police don't usually act violently the first day of a camp going up,” he said. “This just shows us how afraid they are of the Occupy movement.”
The protesters were among thousands of students, faculty and Occupy activists participating in a statewide protest that marked the first banding of the Occupy movement with students against the financial handling of the state's higher education system.
Students had voted to set up an encampment in defiance of university orders, and as soon as they had the first tents up, baton-wielding police moved in on them.
“Put the guns down!” shouted students who had linked arms as police shoved and swung batons, whacking anyone who stood between them and the impromptu encampment outside the administration building.
“It really, really hurt – I got the wind knocked out of me,” said doctoral student Shane Boyle, raising his shirt to reveal a red welt on his chest. “I was lucky I only got hit twice.”
Six UC Berkeley students and one faculty member, English Professor Celeste Langan, were arrested for resisting and delaying police officers, said Lt. Alex Yao of the UC Berkeley Police, which got help from the Alameda County Sheriff's Office and other UC police.
Tents went back up
When officers withdrew, students quickly set up their tents again, declaring that they would try to stay all night.
Shortly after 6 p.m., Harry Le Grande, vice chancellor of student affairs, announced that the university would not allow anyone to camp overnight, and that those who tried would risk arrest.
Le Grande said they could protest “24-7” for one week in the plaza, but that no tents or sleeping bags would be allowed.
Students said their protest was in preparation for a confrontation at next week's meeting of the Board of Regents in San Francisco.
In the past, regents have urged student protesters to take their demands to lawmakers in Sacramento rather than to UC leadership. Wednesday's protest represented a firm rejection of that approach.
The day began with a noon rally at Sproul Plaza, where speakers decried the rising costs of public education and aimed their complaints at specific regents who serve on bank boards or run corporations. The regents included Monica Lozano, Dick Blum, Paul Wachter and Leslie Tang Shilling.
In the crowd, doctoral student Rachel Brahinsky, who studies geography, said that joining the Occupy movement will ensure that students' voices are heard beyond campus gates.
“The people who are making the decisions about the financial future of this institution are totally disconnected from the needs of the majority,” she said. “The students of the UC come from the majority.”
Anger has built for years as tuition has risen while courses and services have declined.
Student Lark Omura captured students' fury as she screamed at the crowd: “We just spent trillions of dollars on the war, and the politicians tell us we have no money for education! When they tell us there's no money, it's a lie!”
Protesters then marched onto Telegraph Avenue, pausing at a Bank of America to chant, “Hey hey! Ho ho! Wall Street regents got to go!”
Regents did not respond to requests for comment. But UC spokesman Steve Montiel spoke on their behalf. Well-connected regents can raise donations to benefit low-income students, he noted.
“While no tuition action is planned at the regents meeting next week,” he added, “we understand the frustration that leads to protests of rising tuition resulting from state disinvestment in higher education.”
Chronicle staff writer Will Kane contributed to this report.