The student occupation of Berkeley’s Wheeler Hall has been going on peacefully since Monday. There have been no locked doors, no barricades, no threats or counter-threats, just an open public space. Earlier in the week it was announced that the university had agreed to let the occupation continue through today.
All of which makes this a huge surprise.
Reports from two generally reliable sources on Twitter say that police raided Wheeler Hall less than an hour ago, sometime around 5 o’clock Friday morning, California time, arresting those inside.
6:00 am update | In an article published just yesterday on a local TV station’s website, UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said that the university had decided “to give [the students] a room or two” in Wheeler rather than rousting them. In the same article, a member of the occupation pledged that the students would leave the building before the start of finals Saturday.
6:55 am | A local reporter says that eighty students are being arrested at Wheeler. If true, this would bring the total number of students arrested in California campus protests this semester to well over two hundred.
7:00 am | I have seen no reports of violence at Berkeley this morning. Also no indication why the university is arresting now — four days after the start of the occupation, and one day before some or all occupiers had planned to end their protest voluntarily.
7:15 am | Again: throughout the course of this occupation, reports from multiple sources have indicated that the students intended to leave Wheeler Hall tonight or early tomorrow, in advance of the start of finals. The occupation’s website, which has posted detailed schedules for each day’s events, lists nothing after tomorrow morning. Given all that, the question of why the university chose to conduct mass arrests today — particularly so early this morning — is a big one.
7:40 am | This local news report states that students who participated in November’s Wheeler Hall occupation were singled out for arrest this morning, and that others inside Wheeler were given the opportunity to leave without arrest. If this is confirmed, it shines quite a bit of light on the strategy behind this pre-dawn raid.
7:55 am | Those of you who haven’t been following the story of this week’s Wheeler Hall occupation may want to take a look at the list of events that had been scheduled for today. It included a review session for an Arabic language class, teach-ins on student and labor organizing issues, a documentary screening, and a workshop on prison reform.
8:10 am | UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof tells the San Francisco Chronicle that police began making arrests at 4:40 this morning, waking sleeping protesters to do so. He says that the decision to arrest was prompted by plans for a hip-hop concert and dance party scheduled for this evening. Mogulof puts the number arrested at 65, 41 of them students.
8:20 am | An unconfirmed report on Twitter says that 42 of the 65 arrested were UC Berkeley students, and that the others included students from UC Davis, UC San Diego, and San Francisco State.
8:40 am | A question for university administrators and reporters: If the reason that the occupation had to be ended now was the possibility that some students might not leave the building at the end of tonight’s concert, why weren’t those inside given the option of walking out without arrest this morning?
10:20 am | Activists are telling supporters to meet at Wheeler Hall at 11:30 for a march to California Hall and noon rally.
10:50 am | The administration has released a lengthy statement regarding this morning’s arrests. That statement puts the number arrested at 66 — 65 within Wheeler Hall, and one more outside. It reiterates the argument that tonight’s scheduled concert was the goad for this morning’s intervention, and implies that attempts to negotiate the cancellation of the concert failed. It does not state, however, whether the university asked for or received assurances that the occupation would end before the start of finals at nine o’clock tomorrow morning.
The statement calls the occupation “largely non-disruptive,” and notes that the occupiers took steps to “ensure that their activities would not conflict with classroom review sessions” scheduled for Wheeler Hall this week. It also notes in passing that today’s review sessions have been moved to another location — although the student occupiers of Wheeler permitted open access to the building all week, the police occupiers are not.
Also significant: The statement makes no claims of vandalism or of messes left behind in Wheeler Hall, despite the fact that the student occupiers were woken from their sleep to be arrested. It appears that the occupiers made good on their assurances that they would keep the place clean and in good repair while they were inside.
11:10 am | A Daily Cal story on the arrests adds new details. It passes on a university spokesperson’s statement that only eight of the 66 arrestees”had been previously cited for similar actions,” and quotes him as saying that “it is expected that those without prior arrests with simply be cited and released.” The eight who had previously been arrested, he says, “might have to post bail.”
11:30 am | A Berkeley instructor has posted on Twitter that she was scheduled to give a final in Wheeler Hall this afternoon, but because the police have locked down the building, the test has been moved. Again, the student occupiers ensured that the building would remain open to all, but the university has not.
11:45 am | Berkeley professor Catherine Cole has sent UC administrators a wonderful letter in support of the students arrested this morning. It’s really a must-read.
11:50 am | The student occupiers have released a statement on this morning’s arrests. It begins by referring to today as “the fifth and final day” of the Open University occupation of Wheeler Hall. More quotes:
“People were not given a final warning – police burst in while people were sleeping and immediately started locking doors and arresting people. Many students have papers due today, and finals to take starting tomorrow,” said Elias Martinez, an undergraduate from Political Science. “There had been cops in here all week, they were acting like it was okay. We had no idea.”
Douglas Virgos, an undergraduate student, spent the night in the UC Berkeley building but then left on a food run in the early morning. “I got back and saw that the police had put handcuffs on the doors. I was there all night and never heard police tell us we had to leave.”
The week of events was scheduled to end with a free concert in Wheeler Hall, where the Oakland-based political hip hop artist, Boots Riley, would perform tonight. “We are going to proceed with the event today, and this show will be larger than ever. We’ll continue to organize with students from other schools and build a worldwide movement of students fighting to retain and expand public education,” said a student who didn’t want to give their name for fear or university reprisals. “The police attack only makes us angrier.”
2:10 pm | The AP has a big article on the arrests up, and it’s pretty sympathetic to the students’ perspective.
5:10 pm | Twitterer @ucbprotest is reporting that 64 out of the 66 students arrested this morning have been released without bail, and that the university acted to secure their release in response to student and faculty pressure. He also reports that tonight’s scheduled concert, which was to be held at Wheeler Hall, will take place at another location. Those interested in attending should meet at 7:30 this evening at the steps of Wheeler, and the group will march to the concert from there.
5:20 pm | An article in the Berkeley Daily Planet contains a very interesting exchange between university spokesperson Dan Mogulof and occupation participant Jeremy Bernes. In a public exchange this afternoon, Mogulof said that the administration had tried and failed to get Zak Solomon, a representative of the protesters, to agree to cancel the concert. But Bernes put that refusal in context. “We did want to hold the party,” he said, “but I’m sure that Zak conveyed the sentiment that all of us had expressed — we would guarantee that Wheeler would be clean and functional by 6 am, well before final exams on Saturday morning.”
Saturday morning | It has been confirmed that only 61 of the 66 arrestees were released without bail. One of the remaining five was on felony probation, and the rest were not California residents, and thus apparently regarded as flight risks. None of the five were Berkeley students, and none of the five had been released as of yesterday evening.
In other news, eight people were arrested for rioting and attacking the home of the UC Berkeley chancellor at midnight last night. Only two of the eight were Berkeley students.
Coverage of the Berkeley situation will continue in a new Student Activism article to be posted this morning.