Where’s the Power?

Anniversary of “Bloody Thursday” and Demolition of People’s Park

By Stephanie Nicole Garcia

Fifty years ago, a progressive rally to defend People’s Park from being fenced-off and turned into a sports field turned into an infamous riot known as “Bloody Thursday,” when UC Berkeley students clashed violently with police, and then California Governor Ronald Reagan called in the National Guard to subdue the protesters.

The future of People’s Park is relevant again, due to UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol T. Christ’s controversial plans to develop the majority of the park into a student housing facility creating 1,000 new beds, and allowing for future “supportive housing” for those suffering from homelessness, as announced in a university press release. However, it’s unclear how the university will achieve the goal to support Berkeley’s most vulnerable citizens because planning and construction for supportive housing will not begin until an outside developer comes in with the funds and resources to create it.

In a Daily Cal article published last spring, the Associated Students of the University of California Housing Commission disapproved of the construction of student housing on People’s Park. Matthew Lewis, a member the Commission, expresses in another Daily Cal article that students will be reluctant to live at the facility because they “hate and fear homeless folks.” When asked if the Commission had student survey responses to substantiate Lewis’ claims, Chair Kevin Klyman stated, “As far as I know, no such survey has been commissioned or released that gauges whether students generally ‘hate and fear homeless folks’ or whether they would be willing to live in the future student housing on People’s Park.”

The BCC Voice asked UC Berkeley students to comment on the development plan for People’s Park, in terms of how they would be affected and whether they believed another student movement would occur to protect the park from being demolished.

“I think People’s Park stands for a lot of things and represents a lot of values UC Berkeley used to care about, but they might not necessarily walk it like they talk it, you know what I mean?” said UC Berkeley sophomore Manduhai Baatar, 20, who lives across the street from the park. “I think, [the park] provides something for people who don’t have anywhere else to go. … For the most part they don’t bother anyone. Students and the school are scared of all them, and dehumanize them a lot. Like you can even see when students walk through … their whole bodies clench up. I think a lot of that has to do with privilege, class, race, and just kids just being sheltered and feeling uncomfortable around homeless people, because that’s what parents have taught them.”

“I think [the construction] is going to further gentrify the City of Berkeley,” UC Berkeley sophomore Eve Weisburger, 19, told The Voice, “They’re trying to do this very quietly, and it’s gonna work because the vast majority of students walk by with complete disregard for the people who live in the park. It’s dehumanizing. … Like, they can’t stay there overnight, but at least they can congregate during the day, and sometimes it’s really beautiful to see people congregating from all kinds of races and backgrounds, and while it can be said that some of them are maybe on drugs, maybe ‘crackheads,’ it’s just a massive generalization to make on an entire community. There are circumstances that placed them there, and by completely removing this support system and the spaces where they all congregate, like you’re just gonna worsen the problem. They’re all just going to slip out on the streets and it’s gonna exacerbate everything that already exists.”

Chinwendu Ononuju, a senior at UC Berkeley, is conflicted on the issue of building student housing on People’s Park, despite her own displacement as a result of the housing crisis and the negative effects it has had on her mental health and financial stability. “There’s a huge disparity in the availability of housing for students, and building new residence facilities seems like a great plan,” said Ononuju. “Although I support meeting the need for student housing, I question the University’s motives in choosing People’s Park. The university seems more concerned with profit, rather than meeting the needs of its students. I don’t think this is a black and white issue; there are many gray areas that still need to be addressed.”

Juan Jose Chihuahua, a 22-year-old senior at UC Berkeley, feels that students will not take action against the proposed construction on the park because he believes “Many students do not even know about the history of People’s Park and the important role it played in the radicalization of students in the 60’s and 70’s movements in the East Bay.”

The Voice went on site to People’s Park to speak to those who will be most affected by the approaching construction. “If the park wouldn’t have been here, it would have been a really big problem with the structure of my life at that time, because I was in and out of prison,” recalled Jay from East Oakland, an on-and-off resident of the park for 30 years who was unaware of the administration’s plans to turn the park into housing facilities.

Oakland natives DaShaun, 33, and Rick, 54, both refuted the claim that People’s Park is a high crime area, due to 10,012 UCPD-related events documented over the past five years.

Rick feels that the majority of the crime that occurs near the park is not caused by people in the park, but by others from outside of the area. “It’s a college community and [students] are always targeted … There’s always gonna be theft, and I don’t think it has anything to do with the park whatsoever … I don’t think people stay in the park and then go out and do crimes. Mostly, the crime that goes on here is minor selling of pot.”

DaShaun and Rick agreed that students will most likely not take action when the proposed construction on People’s Park begins.

Jay was more optimistic. “It’s gon’ be some tricky stuff,” he said, “but I know, the things I know about Berkeley, it might be a small city, but it has a hell of a punch to it… There’s some very bright peoples’ here. Ya know what I’m sayin’? They can see past that bullshit. … When it comes down to it, I think the people’s gon’ win. That’s how I feel in my soul, ya know what I’m sayin’? That the peoples’ will should be heard, and should be respected.”

A photo of the “Bloody Thursday” mural by Osha Neumann and Brian Theele on the wall of Amoeba Music. Photo taken by Jerry Javier. 

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