This article was originally published in the April 15, 1999, issue of The Daily Californian.
By Daniel Hernandez
A 10-hour standoff over the “whittling down” of UC Berkeley’s ethnic studies department ended late last night when UC police officers arrested more than 40 students who had stormed and locked down Barrows Hall.
The protest ended violently between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., when police stepped in to break up the protest, pulling resisting demonstrators by the ears and using choke-holds.
The students locked themselves down in Barrows Hall — the home of the ethnic studies department — after a noontime Sproul Plaza protest over what they call the “starvation” of the first-of-its-kind program.
Protesters threw food, cursed and screamed in anguish as UC police officers forcibly pulled and dragged away the noncompliant protesters. Students locked arms and legs, while police tried to untangle them.
In addition to the 43 students who sat in an arm-linked circle from 7 to 10 p.m., several dozen students crowded outside of Barrows Hall chanting “Inside, Outside, We’re All on the Same Side” and banging on the windows of the building’s front lobby, resulting in many being smashed open.
The protest marked the first campus building takeover since affirmative action supporters locked down Sproul Hall with U-shaped bike locks nearly two years ago. It began when students who held a rally commemorating the 30th anniversary of the creation of UC Berkeley’s ethnic studies programs moved in mass to Barrows and locked its front doors with chains.
“Ethnic Studies Under Attack! What Do We Do? We Fight Back!” the protesters chanted, many of whom called themselves “Third World Strikers.”
Bands of students quickly met outside the building and began discouraging others from entering through the still-open east entrance. Copies of a list of demands to help strengthen the programs were circulated, and by 4 p.m., 38 protesters had taken over the building’s front lobby.
“The concessions the university has made (in the past 30 years) have all been chipped away,” said protester Amy Sadao, an ethnic studies graduate student. “This is one way that we can disrupt business as usual and, unfortunately, that’s the only way that things can get done in this university.”
While students on both sides of Barrows’ front doors waited, Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol Christ — the highest ranking administrator on campus because Chancellor Robert Berdahl was in Los Angeles — met with representatives of the protesting group at 4:15 p.m. in the Eshleman Hall senate chambers. Students said the vice chancellor promised to comply with three demands, including a stop to ethnic studies budget cuts, the hiring of three tenured professors and the establishment of a multicultural research center.
But when police moved in to clear out the building, the strikers formed a sit-down circle and said they would not leave until Christ would commit on all 10 of the demands in writing. When asked by a Daily Californian reporter to comment on the protest, Christ walked away and ignored all questions.
Shortly afterwards, ASUC President Preston Taylor and senators Arian White and Cris Arzate crawled into the building and joined the sitting protesters after police wearing helmets entered Barrows. They had come from the ASUC senate meeting, which was canceled because of the protest.
“As students officials, we need to support the students,” said Taylor.
University administrators also entered the building at about 7 p.m. and began asking the students to comply and peacefully leave. In response, the students yelled epithets, flipped police officers off and screamed chants over those officials who attempted to read a statement from the administration.
“Because the academic process has been disrupted today,” one police officer told the sitting protesters, “you will face pending student conduct charges.”
The protesters cheered the statements, and beginning at 8 p.m., officers moved in to clear out the lobby.
After 11 students were removed, officials told the protesters that Christ had been contacted and would agree to comply with the three demands — including the dropping of charges against those who had resisted while being removed — and meet with them at 8 a.m. today to discuss the other seven.
But the students voted to stay in the building until the university complied with all 10 demands in writing, a move that Christ would not agree to, according to university officials.
When learning of the vice chancellor’s disagreement with the demands, the protesters began chanting, “Christ, You Liar, We’ll Set Your Ass on Fire!” One student demanded that university officials “call Carol Christ right now.”
Shortly afterwards, police started the long process of removing the 22 remaining protesters.
As the protester were dragged away by being pulled by the neck and having their faces held at what police called “pressure points,” observers pointed and yelled “Shame!” and “Police Brutality!”
At times violent and intense, the removal of the protesters was met with loud screaming and chanting from inside and outside the building. At one point, an entire window pane was taken off of the building and one of the doors to Barrows was shattered by protesters kicking it in.
Assistant Vice Chancellor Barbara Davis drove one injured protester, Mike Lamb, who was hurt during a neck-hold, to the hospital.
Food and other items were periodically thrown into the lobby, and students outside the building continually screamed phrases such as “Professors, Not Pigs” at the police officers.
In addition, university-appointed “observers” and student “legal observers” documented the ordeal with note-taking and video cameras. During the night, students outside handed McDonald’s fast food, drinks and bread to the sit-in protesters through the broken windows.
Throughout the 10-hour ordeal, Ling-Chi Wang, chair of the ethnic studies department, stood outside and watched the protest. Early on, he told students he supported their efforts, but warned against violence.
“There’s nothing wrong with a peaceful protest, but please consider the fact that this is the end of the academic year and many of you are graduating,” Wang said.
Victor Alarcon, a student at Laney College in Oakland, was the first protester arrested*.* Alarcon was in the process of chaining Barrow’s doors when UC police apprehended him just after noon.
“I wasn’t resisting or anything,” Alarcon said. “But then I thought about it — I was being too nice.”
Alarcon was released by 5 p.m. after he was charged with a misdemeanor and given a document saying he was barred from the UC Berkeley campus for seven days.
UC police Capt. Bill Cooper said more than 40 UC Berkeley students were arrested, all of whom would be given a court citation. Those students, he said, would also be referred to the office of student conduct.
Those protesters who did not resist arrest were still given a student conduct citation and released immediately after being removed from the building; several protesters attempted to crawl back into the building through the open windows but were re-escorted out.
After all the protesters were cleared out of Barrows Hall, the building’s lobby was left strewn with water bottles, stocked food that was thrown at police officers and broken glass. Cooper said Barrows would be open for normal use today.
“Unfortunately, it takes a lot of student resources to take control of something like this,” Cooper said.
Student continued to rally on campus after the 43 protesters were removed from Barrows, and many said they would return to the building, day after day, until their demands were met.
Bernice Ng and Norman Weiss of The Daily Californian staff contributed to this report.
Daniel Hernandez wrote this report in 1999 as a contributing writer to The Daily Californian. He would later serve as the Daily Cal’s editor-in-chief for 2000-2001. Since then, he has reported for the Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, and VICE.