Some Try to Cool Off Berkeley : Students, Officials Concerned Over Campus Turmoil
Engineering and physics major Dan Weston, squash racket in hand, was listening to Eric and the Flying Tarantulas play rock ‘n’ roll Friday, while across Sproul Plaza anti-apartheid speakers harangued police for roughing up a few of the 91 people arrested in protests the day before.
Weston said he is appalled at the South African government policy of apartheid. But as he saw it on the day after the most violent clash on the UC Berkeley campus in more than a decade, the actions of both sides are “deplorable.”
The protesters, he said, were like loudly crying children. “You think, ‘What a spoiled kid.’ But you don’t want a police officer to take out his club and start hitting him.”
Even as anti-apartheid student organizers made plans for a student boycott of classes next week, demonstrators and university officials voiced fears about the campus violence.
“It stunned students. It was a scary, scary experience. Right now, I’m afraid,” said Mark Min, 21, an organizer of United People of Color, one of three student groups that organized the protests.
Protesters say that frustration is building, more than a year after they began urging the university system to sell its $2.4 billion in investments in South Africa.
“The bottom line is that violence comes about from frustration,” said Rita Himes, 24, another organizer of the anti-apartheid movement on the Berkeley campus.
Demonstration organizers said they tried to keep the protests nonviolent, but lost control of the situation when tensions between police and the protesters rose.
The actions turned violent early Thursday morning as demonstrators threw up barricades around the “shantytown” they had constructed outside California Hall, the main administration building, and began pelting police with rocks and garbage. It grew worse when demonstrators tried to block police buses filled with arrested protesters from leaving.
Twenty-one people were hurt, including one demonstrator who was knocked unconscious. Police arrested a total of 152 people this week, including 72 students. Of the 213 police officers, 85 were from the University of California.
Action in Courts
A Berkeley Municipal Court judge began releasing the protesters on their own recognizance late Friday. Each was charged with seven misdemeanors. A Superior Court judge issued contempt-of-court citations against some of them for violating his order not to erect the 13 makeshift huts because they were a fire hazard.
“We’re trying to figure out ways to bring protest back to something other than fighting with police,” said Ray Colvig, university spokesman.
Colvig, asked if the week’s incidents may signal a return to the confrontations of an earlier era at the Berkeley campus, said, “I sure as hell hope not.”
“There is no reason that it should be,” Colvig said. “The protests of the ‘60s and early ‘70s were in reaction to the war against Vietnam, which itself was an enormously violent episode in our history.”
Colvig said university police on Thursday “handled the situation well,” but added that he “can’t speak” to whether there was overreaction by Oakland police and other officers who were called in to help break up the demonstration.
“We didn’t have enough university observers there to assess everything that happened,” Colvig said.
Craig Anderson, editor of the Daily Californian, the campus newspaper, said that compared to last year’s nonviolent protests, this year’s demonstrations are “a whole different ballgame.”
“The reason for the protests at the beginning is getting lost in macho challenges between protesters and police,” Anderson said.
“The thing that worries me is that if they keep going at this rate and raising the stakes, you’re going to have at the very least someone seriously injured. People have really got to cool off.”
While demonstrators planned their next move Friday, workers sandblasted anti-apartheid graffiti off the administration building. Most political signs spelled out slogans for next week’s student government elections, and few students said they planned to skip class over a policy of a government half a world away, no matter how repugnant they believe that policy is.
Concerned About Grades
“Most students here are more concerned with grades than political events,” freshman Craig Young said, adding that he has no plans to boycott class.
“A lot of us,” said Rosalia Burgeno, a junior in economics, “have a strong moral feeling that apartheid is bad and support people going out to protest, but we have a mid-term on Monday.”
Friday’s noon anti-apartheid rally swelled to about 100 people. But many were drawn by Delta Sigma Pi, a business fraternity, which was awarding a personal computer, a motor scooter and a compact disc player to winners of a $2 raffle.
The crowd that lingered after the raffle was less than enthusiastic. Charlie King, a folk singer who performed at the rally, interrupted one of his songs and told the crowd, “You know you look a lot more active on TV.”
Across the free-speech plaza, another 100 people gathered as a black fraternity initiated new members.
“We feel the same. We’re just not as aggressive,” said one fraternity member.