Riot police break up "Occupy Cal" protest

Police in riot gear clash with student activists in front of Sproul Hall on the University of California at Berkeley campus, Nov. 9, 2011, in Berkeley, Calif. AP Photo/Ben Margot

BERKELEY, Calif. - Police in riot gear moved Wednesday night to break up a demonstration at the University of California at Berkeley that started when anti-Wall Street protesters tried to establish an encampment on campus.

Television news footage from outside the university's main administration building at 10 p.m. showed officers pulling people off the steps and nudging others with batons as the crowd chanted, "We are the 99 percent!" and "Stop Beating Students!"

The university reported earlier in the evening that an administrator had told the protesters they could stay around the clock for a week, but only if they didn't pitch tents, use stoves or other items that would suggest people were sleeping there.

The protesters voted not to comply with the demand and to go ahead with setting up a tent site they dubbed "Occupy Cal" to protest financial policies they blame for causing deep cuts in higher education spending.

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As the evening wore on, the crowd appeared to be swelling as protesters debated whether to stay overnight. The student newspaper The Daily Californian reported that some people from the Occupy Oakland protest were joining the Berkeley demonstrators.

Earlier Wednesday, campus police assisted by Alameda County sheriff's deputies dismantled a small encampment students had set up near Sproul Hall despite official warnings that such encampments would not be allowed.

The move to create a campus off-shoot of the Occupy Wall Street camps around the country came after hundreds of students, teachers and Berkeley residents rallied on campus before marching peacefully to a Bank of America branch.

A smaller group pitched at least eight tents next to Sproul Plaza before police broke through a line of protesters encircling the camp site and tore down the tents. They handcuffed protesters who resisted as others shouted, "Put down your guns!"

The university reported on its web site that seven people, six students and one faculty member, had been arrested on charges of resisting and delaying a peace office in the performance of their duties and/or failure to disperse. One of the seven also was charged with striking an officer.

Shortly after they moved on, however, leaving behind the tents stuffed inside garbage bags, the demonstrators pitched two more tents and surrounded them.

"We see this as an illegitimate use of force," said Amanda Armstrong, a graduate student who was hit several times by police armed with batons that were also used to push through the crowd. "We intend to stay and re-establish our encampment."

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry Le Grande came out to negotiate, telling camp participants they could stay but only with certain conditions, such as not sleeping at the site or using sound amplifiers.

"The university supports the efforts of any group to speak out freely, but everyone is expected to follow campus policies, the law, and respect the rights of others to go to class, to teach, to do their work," campus spokeswoman Janet Gilmore said.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau warned Monday that community members could rally on campus, but that encampments and occupations of buildings were not permitted.

"As the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, we hold an important place in history and are looked to as a model and beacon for others in this regard," the chancellor wrote in an open letter to the community. "We stand ready to support our campus community in leading the collegiate movement in a way that is productive, dignified and consequential."

Shadrick Small, 25, a UC Berkeley graduate student in sociology, was among the protesters trying to block police from dismantling the camp.

"It just seems unnecessary. We weren't doing anything. We were just standing there with a bunch of tents," Small said. "We're not vandalizing. We're not burning anything. And their first response is just to come in and start hitting people. The reaction is just over the top. It's an overreaction."

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