Students block Sather Gate to protest police brutality, express campus climate concerns

Rachael Garner/Staff

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A group of about 50 students and some community members gathered at Sather Gate on Tuesday, protesting police brutality and what they called a hostile campus atmosphere for the underrepresented minority population.

Initially led by the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, the protest was organized as part of a series of coordinated responses nationwide to police brutality. According to Rafael Malik, a member of the network that organized the event, the protest was meant to drum up support for the cause on campus. After Malik and other members of the network left the protest, a diverse group of students continued protesting through the afternoon.

At 11:30 a.m., the group convened outside Sproul Hall and by 1 p.m., more than 50 individuals blocked pedestrian traffic through the passageway under Sather Gate.

On a few occasions, passers-by’s attempts to break through the blockade were met with violent responses. UCPD spokesperson Lt. Marc DeCoulode said there were three reports of assault during the protest, while no arrests were made.

UCPD officers were looking on from a distance throughout the protest, and DeCoulode also noted that the officers were in communication with campus administration before and during the event. Protesters violated campus “time, place and manner” rules governing public forums and rallies, DeCoulode said, by blocking Sather Gate, though UCPD did not take any action.

“It may have been inconvenient, but people did at least have a way to get around,” DeCoulode said.

The protests were largely peaceful. UC Berkeley freshman Luke Thomas said many students “stumbled across the event” and joined the blockade as a spontaneous expression of solidarity because they identified and empathized with the movement.

“I was just walking to class and was told I couldn’t pass,” said senior Janae Castellanos. “So I decided to join them.”

At about 2:20 p.m., the group of protesters involved with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network departed to attend a similar demonstration in Oakland. Afterward, no one leader was directly responsible for the actions of the group blocking Sather Gate, nor was any student group affiliated.

Cori McGowens, a member of the campus Black Student Union, said there was no affiliation between BSU and the protest.

While many protested police brutality, freshman Aumunique Borja spoke out against what she perceived to be a hostile campus climate for the black population and said she felt like an “endangered species” on campus.

Throughout the afternoon, chants ranged from repeated affirmations that “black lives matter” to denunciations of the campus, such as: “UC Berkeley is racist as hell — shut it down, shut it down.”
The protests waned about 4 p.m. Campus senior Jonathan Verdugo said protesters left to avoid any physical altercation after students, who were angry with the demonstrators, started “bull-rushing” them.

At the protest, UC Berkeley junior Nicolas Jaber voiced his displeasure with protesters for nearly two hours, criticizing their manner of protest.

“This type of thoughtless, angry protesting is the essence of the problem of campus climate,” Jaber said. “As long as students resort to these tactics, we will never be able to come together and have a thoughtful discourse about race and gender.”

Verdugo, however, said that regardless of what others felt about the group’s methods, the group was able to have its voices heard.

“Today, everyone who was here now knows that black lives matter,” he said.

Contact Ishaan Srivastava at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ishaansriv.