BERKELEY -- Moving quickly to quell a protest on the site where the Free Speech Movement was born, UC Berkeley police in riot gear on Wednesday tore down tents and arrested at least seven people who had established an Occupy Cal camp.
The violent clash was in stark contrast to peaceful speeches about protecting higher education from budget cuts and a short march that started the demonstration in front of Sproul Hall at noon. By 3:30 p.m., protesters linking arms were facing down lines of police officers as the Occupy group tried to protect a handful of tents that had been erected on a lawn in front of the building.
After warning protesters that camping at the university is illegal, officers moved in and shoved
"Stop beating students," the crowd chanted as officers subdued several people.
"He's breaking my wrists," a man shouted before the police officer arresting him cut off his cries with a chokehold.
Chancellor Robert Birgeneau had warned students in an email Monday that camping would not be tolerated. A police spokesman said overnight camping is illegal on any California campus.
"In these challenging times," Birgeneau wrote, "we simply cannot afford to spend our precious resources and, in particular, student tuition on costly and
Campers appeared headed to another showdown with police later Wednesday night. With organizers calling on others to bring more camping gear, tents immediately reappeared in the same spot after the arrests, and police once again warned protesters that camping was not allowed.
Vice Chancellor Harry LeGrande told demonstrators that they could stay on the site 24 hours a day if they did not use tents or cooking gear.
"We hope you will work with one another and with us to follow our guidelines," he said.
Those arrested were English professor Celeste Langan and UC Berkeley students Sonja Diaz, Zahide Atli, Ramon Quintero, Ricardo Gomez, Timothy Fisken and Zakary Habash.
The demonstrations, just 4½ miles up Telegraph Avenue from the Occupy Oakland encampment at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, were on the site Mario Savio and other Free Speech Movement leaders used for their protests in the mid-1960s.
The current rallies have reflected widespread economic worries that culminated in Occupy Wall Street, a nationwide movement of encampments and demonstrations against banks and large corporations. As at other Occupy protests, picket signs at UC Berkeley
California should lead the nation in reforming public higher education, Leigh Raiford, an associate professor of African-American studies, said during a rally. She decried high foreclosure rates and exorbitant spending on prisons at the expense of public education.
"Reckless greed by the 1 percent caused this," she said. "Much of this student loan debt is held by the big four banks."
Some say the Occupy movement was born at UC Berkeley last year, when students and others repeatedly staged sit-ins at campus buildings. Protests late last year led to numerous arrests, particularly at Wheeler Hall, the building that became a rallying point for university demonstrators.
Students plan to attend the UC regents meeting next week to decry steadily rising tuition.
Joey Freeman, a member of the Associated Students government at UC Berkeley, said Californians should push for a ballot measure to reform taxes and specifically the property-tax-limiting Proposition 13.
"Disinvestment in public education needs to end and needs to end now," he said. "There are ways to raise more money. First and foremost, everybody needs to pay their fair share."
California's colleges and universities have been hit with massive budget cuts and steep tuition hikes in recent years. University of California tuition has risen seven times in the past five years to help offsethundreds of millions in state budget cuts.
The state cut $650 million each from the UC and California State University systems this year, and each system faces an additional $100 million reduction in the next two months if state revenue does not meet a certain threshold. The cuts have led to class cancellations and layoffs in both systems.
Berkeley students need to better understand the issues if they are going to protest, said doctoral student Mahendra Prasad as he passed out fact sheets to the crowd explaining California's financial situation.
"If people understand the issues, they can better understand what to do about them," he said. "I don't think they're very knowledgeable about it."
Staff writer Rick Hurd contributed to this story. Matt Krupnick covers higher education. Contact him at 510-208-6488. Follow him at Twitter.com/MattKrupnick.