Showdown at Wheeler Hall

On Nov. 20, the day after the UC Board of Regents approved a 32 percent increase in student fees, protests on the Berkeley campus escalated dramatically with the occupation of Wheeler Hall and violent clashes between demonstrators and police agencies — including the campus police, Berkeley Police Department, Oakland Police Department and Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.
— Mihir Zaveri, The Daily Cal, June 17, 2010

I was recently going through some old photos, when I rediscovered these pictures from November 2009. (It's strange to think that events from 2009 can be considered old, but time flies.) As Mihir Zaveri wrote, the UC Board of Regents had steeply increased the tuition for in-state students. In the early morning of Nov. 20, 40 protesters — 36 of whom were students — locked themselves in Wheeler Hall, to draw attention to their cause.

Wheeler Hall is one of the main lecture halls for undergraduate students. It's where I took Political Science 2: Introduction to Comparative Political Theories my first semester. (And also where I, coincidentally, decided not to pursue a degree in PoliSci.) Most importantly, Wheeler Hall is located by a central intersection on Berkeley's campus, which most students have to cross to reach their classes.

Police officers decided to shut down this thoroughfare to form a buffer zone around the building. By the time I arrived that afternoon to photograph the protest, crowds of students, numbering in the hundreds, had clumped around the police lines.

I didn't participate in the protest, but I found it absurd that police felt the need to don full riot gear and arm themselves with "less than lethal" weapons in their face-off against unarmed students.

In retrospect, it was a dangerous situation, and I probably got too close to the action. Near the end of my time there, the crowd began bunching up against a section of the police line. Within a split second, the crowd panicked and everybody sprinted backward — straight toward me.

The police did not actually open fire, though they did point their weapons at protesters, which likely triggered the stampede.

I think the photos, posted below in chronological order, convey the tension between the two sides that harrowing afternoon.