Violent Protests Erupt As School Builds Student Housing Over City’s Best Park

By Erika Hanson | Published

UC Berkeley

History seems to be repeating itself at People’s Park in Berkeley, California. Said to be one of the city’s best parks, activists have long fought to keep the outdoor green space a free public park, despite the land’s ownership belonging to UC Berkeley. As the school began construction plans this week that would bring loud, disruptive construction to tear down tree’s in parts of the park to erect much-needed student housing, activists fought back and clashed with police.

According to reports from The Associated Press, People’s Park was cleared for construction overnight on Tuesday as fencing was set up early Wednesday morning on August 3rd as the overhaul was set to begin. Just that past Friday, a Superior Court judge had given UC Berkeley the OK to move forward with plans to build more student housing. But after hundreds of police in riot gear clashed with protestors who tore through the fencing, construction was temporarily halted.

To understand the tense situation, the history of People’s Park is important to understand. The unease between UC Berkeley, police, and student activists stems back more than five decades ago. Community members joined forces in attempts to take back the land that the university had claimed under eminent domain. After violent protests and similar scenes of erected fences to keep the people out, confrontations ended with authorities shooting and killing one and wounding many others. The date, May 15, 1969, was coined a historic one for the city, known as Bloody Thursday. Remaining a free park space to this day, the city eventually renamed the site People’s Park.

The agitation this week stems from UC Berkeley’s desire to find more housing solutions for students. All across the nation, and especially in California, housing is sparse. UC Berkeley perpetually reports growth in student enrollment year after year, meaning existing student dorms are filled quickly. With rent being so high, the college has scrambled to find new places to house students to keep them from being homeless

In beginning to prepare for the construction of the UC Berkeley student housing within People’s Park, crews began cutting down trees while protestors stood behind police-protected fences chanting “power to the people!” Reports from UC Berkeley police stated that some protestors threw items such as rocks, bottles, and glass at the construction crew. As the situation escalated long into Wednesday afternoon, some protestors broke through the 8-foot chain fence. 

As protestors confronted police, UC Berkeley called for a cease of construction, out of safety concerns. Those that remained touted victory within the park in small chants of celebration. Some even climbed onto bulldozers that were left near a basketball court. According to reports from The Washington Times, at least seven people were arrested, and two officers were wounded.

UC Berkeley

For now, the plan remains intact, and UC Berkeley is still set to build the housing complex. If it goes through, it will provide at least 1,100 students at the university with needed housing. But given the turmoil and unrest from community members, the endeavor will be met with additional uprisings.