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60 protesters arrested at UC Berkeley for occupying classroom building, authorities say

December 11, 2009 |  1:08 pm

Police at UC Berkeley arrested more than 60 trespassing students and other protesters early this morning after a four-day "open occupation" of a classroom building, university officials said.

The protesters were arrested at 4:40 a.m. for misdemeanor trespassing inside Wheeler Hall, where they had planned to host an all-night dance party with a DJ and guest performances, said Dan Mogulof, a university spokesman. The group included at least 24 who identified themselves as students, he said.

“In the beginning, they went out of their way to not disrupt classes,” Mogulof said. “They told us they’d be out by Friday evening because they knew finals were there Saturday [morning]. But things changed. They scheduled and began to heavily publicize an all-night hip-hop concert.”

A flier provided by the university said the concert was set tonight from 8 until the "the cops kick in the doors."

A total of 65 occupants were inside the building at the time of the arrests, and one was outside attempting to cause a disruption, Mogulof said.

The protesters had maintained the illegal, largely non-disruptive 24-hour presence inside Wheeler Hall since Monday, claiming to do so in the name of "opening the university." Mogulof said their motives were not entirely clear because they never made any demands.

“It’s hard to know. It was about demonstrating a new model for an ‘open university,’” Mogulof said. “Obviously it happened in the wake of raising fees.”

For weeks, students have protested a 32% tuition hike at University of California campuses.

Ianna Owen, a graduate student, was arrested Nov. 20 in a similar demonstration at Wheeler Hall. The 23-year-old said the protest was an attempt  demonstrate what an actual public university should look like.

“[We want] a university that is accessible to all people, that is free to all people and that educates people," Owen said in a telephone interview. "Right now, the lessons we’re learning is that you’ll get beaten or arrested for standing up in what you believe in.

“It’s very ridiculous the school is so proud of their diversity and having a role in the free speech movement," she said. "But they got those things because people did what we’re doing now. They can’t have it both ways.”

Owen said Wheeler Hall was on lockdown, with only faculty and staff allowed to enter. She said she supports a plan to march to California Hall, a central administration building on campus, to protest the arrests and hold a rally.

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy