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Aug 4, 22

Destruction of People’s Park Halted as Protesters Tear Down Fences, Disable Machines

Early on Wednesday morning, construction crews backed by riot police and private security entered People’s Park in Berkeley, California to begin construction of a student housing project, which if completed, would bring an end to the autonomous park which began over 53 years ago. In response, park defenders and Berkeley community members mobilized, and over the course of several hours, were able to tear down fences erected around the park, attack and sabotage construction machinery, and eventually drive out riot police.

A rally later in the day brought out hundreds of supporters to the park, which removed some of the debris and called for ongoing direct action. A statement from the university declared that construction was halted, “due to the destruction of construction materials, unlawful protest activities and violence on the part of some,” and claimed it would assess the situation in the coming days.

People’s Park, a History of Resistance

In April of 1969, Berkeley community members took over a small plot of land that had been left derelict for over a year by UC Berkeley, after it evicted and demolished homes and apartments of hundreds of local residents. This eviction wave was coupled with increased police harassment in an attempt to clamp down on student radicalism and the growing youth culture in the wake of the Free Speech Movement. A few weeks later, Governor Reagan, who campaigned on a platform of smashing the Left in Berkeley, brought in police and national guard to clear the park. The stage was set for a bloodbath.

Thousands of park defenders rioted, clashing with police, who fired live ammunition at protesters, killing one by-standard, shooting the eye out of another, and sending over 100 people to the hospital. Over the next several weeks, anger grew on the streets, as the military enforced an occupation, outlawed protests, and violently attacked demonstrations. Eventually the park was re-taken and over the next several decades, riots and fresh clashes with the authorities continued to break out in defense of the park and against incursions by the university.

If completed, the development project by UC Berkeley would build housing for “1,100 students, as well as partnering with Resources for Community Development to provide about 100 beds for low-income and formerly homeless residents.” The bay area is one of the most expensive housing markets in the US and the lack of affordable student housing is in turn helping to drive gentrification and rising rents in surrounding areas. UC Berkeley itself has also evicted residents and demolished rent-controlled units in an effort to make way for more high priced student housing. Berkeley’s own zoning laws also further accelerate rising rents and gentrification, all of which are helping the levels of houselessness to grow. The destruction of People’s Park will only further accelerate gentrification of Berkeley and help drive up housing costs, while also destroying a real lifeline to mutual aid programs and services that the surrounding community depends on.

Park Defenders Push Back Against Raid

In the early morning of Wednesday, UC police blocked off streets surrounding People’s Park, began construction of a large fence around the perimeter of the park and began cutting down trees. Over the next several hours, more police and security arrived as park defenders inside the fenced off area attempted to block destruction of park infrastructure while encouraging supporters to rally in protest.

photo: @eli_kamisher

As the day wore on, park supporters grew in number and were eventually able to pull down part of the metal fence as demonstrators swarmed into the park. Clashes with police broke out and several arrests took place, but eventually park defenders were able to take the park and shut down construction. Photos and reports from journalists at the scene show smashed up “pricey construction equipment,” which was sabotaged and covered in graffiti.

A rally at 5pm later that day drew hundreds of supporters, who then marched down to People’s Park, as speakers addressed the crowd and people sat atop construction equipment while others cleaned up debris.

Direct Action Causes Construction to be Pushed Back

Following the park reclamation, city officials walked back on attempts to reverse a ban on police use of tear-gas that has been on the books since the George Floyd uprising. According to Berkeleyside:

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín had called a special City Council meeting today to review its “permanent” ban on tear gas, which went into effect in the summer of 2020, but he canceled it this morning.

Berkeley police have not participated in the UC Berkeley Police Department’s operation at People’s Park, where construction for student housing began Wednesday, and the discussion would have applied only to Berkeley officers, not UCPD — which is allowed to use tear gas under its use of force policy.

Arreguín said he called the meeting due to the possibility that Berkeley police would have to respond to ongoing protests at People’s Park. According to the mayor, UCPD and BPD had an agreement that UCPD would oversee all law enforcement and mutual aid requests during the event, as it has jurisdiction over the area.

The mayor said UC Berkeley informed the city their mutual aid response expired Wednesday night, prompting concerns BPD may need to become involved if the protest spilled into the city.

It was also announced that UC construction at People’s Park has officially been pushed back to October, as more legal challenges are being pushed through the courts:

Two eventful days after UC Berkeley attempted to begin construction on a controversial student housing project at People’s Park, a state appellate court approved a stay order halting all construction and changes until October.

It’s another development in a court case by Make UC a Good Neighbor and the People’s Park Historic Advocacy Group, who appealed the case (again) after an Alameda County judge shot down their argument on July 29.

Before the court decision, activists at the park who continued to occupy the area as of Thursday night said they were prepared to hold down the site for as long as it took to stop construction.

Follow Defend People’s Park for updates.

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