President Reagan Shut Down Berkeley Riots in 1969

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Berkeley was the scene of riots in 1969. Times were very different and the situation then and now isn’t really comparable. The country was in the midst of riots by domestic terrorists like Bill Ayers. There were thousands of rioters at Berkeley in 1969 and there were reportedly only 150 violent rioters out of thousands this past week.

Ronald Reagan was governor of California in 1969 when he decided to use force to quell the riot. He declared a state of emergency and sent in 2,200 National Guard troops to restore order. by “whatever means necessary”.

The riot was called the battle for People’s Park but the rioters after the fact.

Earmarked for a million dollar development, the People’s Park had been left vacant by the university and transformed by students into a community park. The university considered making the land into a parking lot.

On April 18 1969, an article entitled ‘Hear Ye, Hear Ye’ in the Berkeley Barb informed readers about the guerilla pop-up park. “A park will be built this Sunday between Dwight and Haste,” it read. “The land is owned by the university which tore down a lot of beautiful houses in order to build a swamp.”

“In a year the university will build a cement type expensive parking lot which will fiercely compete with the other lots for the allegiance of Berkeley’s Buicks.

“On Sunday we will stop this shit. Bring shovels, hoses, chains, grass, paints, flowers, trees, bull dozers, top soil, colorful smiles, laughter and lots of sweat … we want the park to be a cultural, political freak out and rap center for the Western world.”

Attempting to head off the activists, the university engaged a fencing company, accompanied by 250 police, to erect a chain-link fence around the land at 4 a.m. on May 15, 1969. Five hours later, a rally was called on Sproul Plaza to protest the action.

Resource, a current UC Berkeley reference guide for new students, relates the story of how Reagan intervened, sending in the National Guard:

“The rally, which drew 3,000 people, soon turned into a riot, as the crowd moved down Telegraph (Ave.) towards the park. That day, known as Bloody Thursday, three students suffered punctured lungs, another a shattered leg, 13 people were hospitalized with shotgun wounds, and one police officer was stabbed. James Rector, who was watching the riot from a rooftop or throwing rebar as the police claimed, was shot by police gunfire; he died four days later.

The University of California Police Department (UCPD) claimed Rector threw steel rebar down onto the police from a roof. People had been throwing bricks and sharpened pieces of metal on the police from a rooftop, perhaps a different, nearby roof. Police fired at the rioters on the roof, Rector was shot and died four days later. Another man, Alan Blanchard, was blinded.

Deputies were arrested and put on trial for firing at the protesters. They were acquitted in 1971.

In the week leading up to the riots, Youth International Party member [hard-left] and anti-war activist Stew Albert wrote in the Berkeley Barb newspaper that “park commissioners” were not prepared to “let the university piss its fascist thing on our flowers of freedom”.

They were the Occupiers of the day. At the same time, domestic terrorists under communists like Bill Ayers were using violence to create social change..

For several days, police and troops arrested nearly 1,000 people, including 200 for felonies, while 500 were booked at the local jail.

Later at a press conference, Reagan was questioned about his reaction to the riot.  He was asked why he didn’t negotiate with the rioters.  Reagan said, “What is there to negotiate?”

“All of it began the first time some of you who know better…let young people think that they had the right to choose the laws they would obey as long as they were doing it in the name of social protest,” he said.

The park is still a park and a hangout for the homeless.

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