City’s opinion of movement changed as crime levels rose

MLK park
Barbara Sullinger/Staff

Occupy Berkeley is homeless.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in Downtown Berkeley lies abandoned after months of being the center of controversy and strife during the Occupy Berkeley events that took place late last year.

Though the city’s Occupy movement was initially well received by Berkeley City Council members and Mayor Tom Bates when it first began last fall, the protesters’ camp was abruptly shut down in late December following escalated crime levels and citations from city staff.

The eviction itself was a surprise for protesters — camped out in the park at Allston Way and Milvia Street with nearly 100 tents in December — who had experienced cooperation with the city since the movement began in mid-October. Around the time of the eviction, many Occupy supporters called the camp California’s sole remaining Occupy camp.

But in a memo from Dec. 14, the city pointed to a jump in crime at the park after late November as grounds for a potential eviction. Less than a week later, the camp was handed an eviction notice by the city manager’s office, and on Dec. 22, police began removing protesters’ tents from the encampment.

“The situation in the park is unacceptable,” the memo reads. “The city is concerned about the health and safety of both members of the encampment and the general public including school age children.”

Between Dec. 14 and Dec. 20, there were eight reported crimes, including an assault with a deadly weapon that resulted in a stabbed victim and an alleged attempted rape on a woman who was a member of the Occupy camp.

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said that in addition to the cost the Occupy Berkeley movement left on the city, there were concerns from residents in his district who worried about its effect on the neighborhoods surrounding Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.

“I had gotten a number of emails from constituents … They were concerned about Berkeley High kids who go to the park for lunch,” Wozniak said. “They saw that students were wandering over there … and skipping school.”

Though some protesters now occasionally camp outside of the Bank of America on Shattuck Avenue, there are no current plans under way to begin an occupation anywhere else in the city, according to John Holzinger, a UC Berkeley junior and one of Occupy Berkeley’s organizers.

Even before the eviction, some Occupy Berkeley protesters said it was not the encampment that represented the movement’s message but the ability to rally together in support of a single cause. Many had expressed frustration that though the occupation of the park originally stood for the movement’s anti-corporate ideals, the encampment soon attracted people desperate for shelter and food.

Still, the closure of the Occupy Berkeley camp has led to a reduction in activity among protesters who no longer share a living space. But what began as a movement in solidarity with the worldwide Occupy movement quickly turned sour due to the crime and public nuisance caused by some protesters — making the Occupy Berkeley final shutdown inevitable, according to city staff.

“The city did a good job of documenting it — they waited and were patient,” Wozniak said. “The council was sympathetic to Occupy movements, but the character of the movement changed a lot.”


Anjuli Sastry covers city government.

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  • LOL… who in Berkeley would have thought that a bunch of unemployable left-wing losers would be a source of crime and pollution? Must be a real bummer in that they can’t blame George Bush for all of this…