Berkeley Crackdown Raises Fear of Move Backward

Ann McClure's picture

On Tuesday, protesters wheeled blackboards and pianos onto Sproul Plaza at the University of California, Berkeley. Thousands gathered near the famous steps for a day of teach-ins, music and speeches — one of the largest protests on the campus since the 1960s.

The university embraces activism as part of its official history. But as the Occupy movement spreads to Berkeley, some students and faculty members said they feared that administrators were turning back the clock, using harsh tactics to suppress political advocacy protected by university policy that grew out of the Free Speech Movement.

As night fell on Tuesday, protesters voted overwhelmingly to put up tents in defiance of Robert J. Birgeneau, Berkeley’s chancellor, who has prohibited encampments synonymous with the Occupy demonstrations. More than a week ago, the police dragged protesters by the hair and struck them with batons as they tried to protect a similar encampment.

By Thursday, the new tent city was gone. University police in riot gear descended on Sproul Plaza at 3:30 a.m. and dismantled about 20 tents. Most protesters left peacefully, the police said, but two were charged with illegal lodging and failure to disperse, both misdemeanors.

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