BERKELEY, Calif. (KRON) — Seven protesters were arrested in People’s Park and the University of California Berkeley paused construction work after violence broke out on Wednesday.
Before Wednesday’s clashes between protesters and police, a judge had given a green light allowing for a homeless encampment to be removed from the park so that UC Berkeley could begin building new housing for its students.
“It’s a tragedy, it’s a shame, it’s a power-play. It’s not over yet. It’s a public park, People’s Park. I’m not afraid to get arrested. I’ve been beaten by the police, I’m not afraid of that either,” said one protester who’s lived in Berkeley for 49 years.
As construction crews were chopping down trees, activists hugged and climbed other nearby trees to protect them.
Despite a heavy presence of police officers dressed in riot gear, construction workers still had to leave the area out of safety concerns. Two law enforcement officers and one protester were injured.
Protesters blamed police officers for escalating the situation, while the university blamed the protesters.
Activists spray-painted heavy construction machinery left behind in the park with graffiti, as well as posed for photos that were posted on social media.
UC Berkeley spokesman Kyle Gibson wrote Thursday, “Due to the destruction of construction materials, unlawful protest activity, and violence on the part of some protesters, the university decided to pause construction work on the People’s Park housing site. All construction personnel were withdrawn out of concern for their safety. In the course of preparing and planning for the start of construction, safety has been the university’s highest priority, and that remains the case now. The campus will, in the days ahead, assess the situation in order to determine how best to proceed with construction of this urgently needed student housing project.”
The seven protesters were arrested on various charges, including battery on a peace officer, trespassing, and obstructing an officer. “We documented a variety of crimes including thefts, vandalism, battery, and assault via caustic liquid,” Gibson wrote.
People’s Park, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, played a role in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s and 70s.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch denied petitions from three grassroots groups that opposed the housing project. The university says its project will include housing for 1,000 undergraduate students and 125 low-income residents.