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Police, Rioters Clash ’60s-Style Over People’s Park

May 21, 1989

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) _ A rally marking the 20th anniversary of the People’s Park occupation turned into a violent clash with police reminiscent of one of the bloodiest riots of the 1960s. Twelve people were arrested.

Fifteen police officers were injured during the riot Friday night and Saturday morning near the University of California at Berkeley, including one who was hit over the head with a bottle, said police spokesman David Anderson. None, however, was hospitalized. Two firefighters also suffered minor injuries.

About 70 Berkeley and 30 university police scuffled with combatants in a crowd of about 1,000 as piles of trash were gathered and torched and looters smashed store windows, then fled with merchandise.

At least 28 businesses were damaged during the violence, but no dollar estimate was immediately available, Anderson said. No other injuries were reported.

Two Berkeley fire department vehicles were overturned and one was set one fire, said Anderson, who estimated the damage at about $40,000. Another fire engine was vandalized while responding to a fire at an intersection in the middle of the riot.

The scene was an eerie replay of the 1969 clashes whose focus was the 2.3- acre university-owned lot that the university had targeted for housing. Activists wanted to turn it into a park, and the dispute came to embody all that the two sides hated about each other during that protest-filled decade.

But this weekend’s violence seemed oddly out of context.

″What started here tonight was something that began as a social protest but it quickly degenerated into just plain vandalism,″ University of California student David Brooks, 19, said Friday night.

The rally started about 10 p.m. and broke up about an hour later, but the crowd gathered again and smashed windows and looted about a dozen stores in the nearby business district. Most of the action was about a half-block from the park and some three blocks from the UC campus.

″I thought that People’s Park was all about creating peace, but these riots have no place in the peace movement,″ said Julia Tolley, who stood outside a boutique with her boyfriend, Rusty Pacatte, owner of the store.

The couple said several thousand dollars in merchandise were stolen from the store, which carries expensive household furnishings and clothing.

The same Bank of America branch that became a regular activist target in the 1960s was struck again by an arsonist.

″He lit a paper bag on fire and stuck his hand through a broken window,″ said 17-year-old Greta Salmonson. ″It took a few minutes and then the flames started coming up.″

Some of the crowd tried to put out the fire, said 24-year-old political science major Blake Marnell. The bank’s carpeting and paneling were scorched before Berkeley firefighters doused the flames.

Streets were littered with broken glass, capsized newspaper racks and burning trash cans. A clothing store was trashed, and two husky students stood guard in front of the store, trying to keep looters from entering.

Seven of those arrested were adults. Five were booked for investigation of possession of stolen property, one for investigation of assault with a deadly weapon and assault on a police officer, and another for investigation of inciting a riot, Anderson said.

Five juveniles were arrested for investigation of possession of stolen property, he said.

People’s Park has remained virtually untouched, an encampment for the homeless, since activists occupied it a generation ago after the university drew plans to erect student housing there.

During the original occupation, gardens were planted in rolled sod, tents went up and long-haired protesters moved in. The university finally fenced the lot on May 15, 1969.

When protesters tried to cut down the fence, they were met with heavily armed sheriff’s deputies, who peppered dozens of protesters with birdshot. One man, James Rector, died a few days later. An artist was blinded and two news reporters were among those who were hurt.

Then-Gov. Ronald Reagan sent 2,000 National Guard troops to occupy the city for 17 days. A nightly curfew was imposed and meetings of more than three people were banned. In the first week after the riot, 1,000 people were arrested.

In 1972, the university agreed to allow limited public access to the still- vacant park. But it has never formally abandoned plans to build student housing and recreational facilities at the site, prompting some recent protests.

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