In Sproul Plaza of UC Berkeley, hundreds gathered for a dance party that began around 10pm on Thursday, February 25. At the peak of the party (around 12am) the 250 people dancing surrounded the loudspeakers as together they moved farther into campus. As we approached Durant Hall, a building currently being renovated, people began handing out communiques. We began to see a yellow light glow from inside the second story windows of the building, and then silhouettes of dozens of occupiers emerged. They rigged a few banners across the front of the building and descended to join the party.
The occupation continued for a little over an hour, as occupiers and outside support began barricading their surroundings. The building, Durant Hall had once been a haven for East Asian Language studies, but is now being remodeled into another administration building. The occupation had the intention to point out this gross contradiction in university spending as well as articulate the need to escalate for March 4th. The point made, the occupiers and the supporters joined together to move the dance party away from an assured arrest action as police numbers slowly increased, in order to reserve their energy for the coming week.
As the crowd reached Telegraph and Bancroft (one entrance to UCB), the disruption of business as usual continued, as a handful of masked individuals grabbed trash cans and newspaper dispensers and knocked them over. The dance party continued to move past Bancroft, down Telegraph as more people joined the march and joined the destruction of capital. Now the windows of fast food chains smashed, the party settled in the intersection of Durant and Telegraph. The Berkeley police soon arrived, wearing helmets, armor and brandishing batons. However, there were 12 police and between two to three hundred dancers. The crowd scattered for a moment, expecting imminent police arrests, but to their surprise, the massive force they represented stopped the police cold in their tracks, thus shattering their feeling of submission. Those that began to burn trash cans and those that continued to stay simply because they felt empowered to do so, showed the strength even a small crowd can have against the brutal forces they faced.
The crowd began to swell in the intersection. Some 500 people were present, a combination of observers and protesters. The dance party continued to rage on as more and more people took the intersection, by now at least three hundred. Then without a clear reason, the police began to descend on the people in the streets. Some ran to the sidewalks to observe from a distance, others stood their ground, refusing to move. The police pushed people with their batons, the protesters pushed back and some were caught in the middle. Then an officer grabbed a woman at random and smashed her head to the ground. The protesters pushing back against the police began to grab for the woman to rescue her from further abuse, while even the observers at this point were surrounding the police, aware of the brutality at hand. The crowd nearly encircled the police, shouting, “Fuck the police!” and “Police brutality!” The police began to remove themselves from the scene, and line up again between the protesters and the campus, some 30 feet away from the crowd.
The atmosphere had changed now, the police had directly assaulted a person and charged at a crowd, most of whom were only there dancing. The crowd started forming a line, dumpsters were set ablaze and in an instant a largely passive group became a group intensely aware of the police presence. They confronted them, standing together, approaching a line of police that had by now grown, yet still outnumbered greatly. Even the observers became more brazen as many of them joined the protesters to face the police line, with cameras and iphones ready to snap a shot of the next assault on the crowd.
What had started as a dance party and occupation quickly turned into a direct confrontation with the police, whom had been following the protesters through out the night. For the next few hours the crowd stood firm; the crowd and the police pushed back and forth. A police car approached the line of cops, stopped and waited; within a few moments the police randomly grabbed a protester, struck him and plowed him into the asphalt with three officers kneeling on top his back. Ten minutes later, another car pulled behind the line of cops, and this time the police grabbed a woman who was rightfully shouting at the police for bloodying her nose earlier. Throughout the course of these arrests, observers and press were pushed back by the police, the police stating that they had to move away. The crowd grew more enraged, as with each police abuse spurring retaliations from behind the line of protesters in the form of thrown empty bottles and empty plastic paint cans.
Eventually, as the crowd collectively realized the painfulness of each interaction with the police, they withdrew from the line and proceeded East down Durant, in the process leaving a trail of burning trash cans and dumpsters. By 3am, the BART police arrived and the marching crowd dissipated.