The Daily Californian Online

Wheeler Hall Occupation Ends Peacefully

By George Ashworth, Angelica Dongallo, Tomer Ovadia, Javier Panzar and Zach E.J. Williams
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Category: News > University > Student Life

The more than 12-hour occupation of UC Berkeley's Wheeler Hall by a group of 40 protesters ended with their release at about 7:30 p.m. Friday.

As hundreds of other demonstrators cheered, the building occupants were ultimately allowed to exit the building without handcuffs after occupying a room on the second floor of the campus building beginning sometime before 6:30 a.m. Friday. There were an estimated 1,000 people in the crowd throughout the day.

"What we did in there isn't what this is about," said Christopher Cantor, a post-doctoral researcher in the school of optometry and one of the occupants, to the crowd of demonstrators after he exited Wheeler. "It doesn't compare to what you did out here."

The protesters were arrested, cited and released for trespassing. According to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, it is unlikely the students will face campus disciplinary actions such as suspension or expulsion.

In addition three protesters who were arrested earlier Friday when the group of protesters initially entered the building were charged with felony burglary and released on $10,000 bail.

The occupation comes a day after the UC Board of Regents passed a systemwide 32 percent increase in undergraduate student fees that will take effect in two increments over the course of 2010, and also follows two days of demonstrations from protesters regarding the fee increases, layoffs and budget cuts.

Police officers from the Berkeley Police Department and between 60 to 70 from the Alameda County Sheriff's Office were sent to assist UCPD.

According to Sgt. J.D. Nelson, an Alameda County Sheriff's Office spokesperson, the officers with the sheriff's office bring "less lethal munitions" when they are sent to conduct crowd control, though he is not certain whether the officers Friday had them.

"We're going to bring all our equipment just in case things go badly," Nelson said, adding that the commander at the scene said the officers "did not deploy any of their weaponry at all."

However, some police officers did strike protesters with their batons, in many cases when students were attempting to create human barricades.

"From what I saw none of the students ever attacked any of the cops," said junior Abel Mejia, a political science major who attends City College of San Francisco. "They were holding their line and said ... 'We are not going to push you but we are not moving.'"

While the number of demonstrator injuries remains unclear, at least one police officer was reportedly injured, according to Mogulof.

The crowds brought banners with slogans such as "You Can't Cut Solidarity" and "Occupy everything!" They chanted "Whose university? Our university!" and "Layoff Yudof!" throughout the day.

From their location inside the building, protesters announced through a megaphone their demands that included the repeal of the approved fee increase, the rehiring of 38 custodians, good-faith lease negotiations for the Bear's Lair Food Court vendors and the renewal of the Rochdale co-op lease.

In the end, none of the protesters' demands were met, but talks between key administrators, student leaders, police and faculty members from the Solidarity Alliance resulted in arrangements for the end of the protest.

According to Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, who sent campuswide e-mail updates Friday, about 3,800 students were unable to attend their classes in Wheeler Hall Friday because of the protest.

"Taking over our classroom buildings is not a productive way in which to advance our shared interests in gaining support for public higher education," Birgeneau said in a statement Friday.

In addition, hundreds of other students, staff and faculty members were forced to evacuate several campus buildings Friday morning because fire alarms sounded, leading to the cancellation of many classes.

"I don't know what this will accomplish," said junior Zoe Fishman, a history major whose class in Dwinelle Hall Friday morning was interrupted by a fire alarm. "It's just disruptive and I'd rather have class."

Some onlookers who had not participated in earlier demonstrations said the dramatic actions of Friday made them look at the situation with a different perspective.

"It was the spectacle, it was the magnitude that draws persons to it," said graduate student Bret van den Akker. "The last few days it's like OK, if I have time to be involved in this I will but you know when you come out and see 500 people ... standing up for things you know are important ... it kind of draws you in."

Still, other students said they appreciated the actions of the demonstrators Friday to bring attention to their cause.

"(Administrators) are not listening and I feel like this was honestly just a really desperate attempt to make them listen to us, and even then that didn't work," said senior Hatty Lee, an ethnic studies major. "They just wanted to shut us up and go on with business as usual."

Jamie Applegate and Mihir Zaveri contributed to this report.

Article Link: