Student protests underway at UC Berkeley; campus shooting appears unrelated

UC Berkeley student Honest Cheung speaks at an Occupy Cal protest at Sproul Plaza
Photo by Nena Farrell

By Nena Farrell and Rebecca Bowe

Traffic was stopped in downtown Berkeley today, Nov. 15, as a mass of university students took to the streets as part of the day of action organized by Occupy Cal. Hundreds gathered at Sproul Plaza at the University of California at Berkeley for a rally before embarking on a march down Bancroft that stopped in front of Berkeley High School and was progressing toward Berkeley Community College. Students decided to hold the day of action in the wake of a police crackdown last Wednesday that occurred when students tried setting up an Occupy encampment on campus.

As the 2 p.m. rally was underway, an officer-involved shooting occurred at the Haas School of Business, roughly a five minute walk north of Sproul Plaza. Wendi Jonassen, a student at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, told the Guardian she had spoken with eyewitnesses Juan Sanchez, a student at the Haas School of Business, and Josh Ahn, a student worker at the business school.

The eyewitnesses gave similar accounts, saying an individual entered a third-floor computer lab where about 20 students were working when a staff member noticed that he had what looked like a gun. He entered a side room apart from the main computer lab, where four students were present. Four officers entered that room, and students in the computer lab heard one of the officers say, "Put the gun down!" About ten seconds later, four shots were fired, the students said, and the man with the weapon was hit. He was transported to the hospital and was alive when he was taken out of the building, students said, but it was unclear how many gunshot wounds he had or what his condition was.

Also unclear was whether he was a student or why he'd entered the computer lab. Based on the information available, there was nothing to suggest the incident was connected with the student protests. There were no other injuries, and the entire building was declared a crime scene and closed to students.

As this was occurring, students who converged at Sproul Plaza for a 2 p.m. rally were making their way toward Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue to hear Robert Slaughter, an African American student at St. Mary's who was arrested during the Nov. 9 Occupy Cal protest, describe his experience of being treated roughly by police and held in jail on $15,000 bail following the protest. Slaughter was banned from campus by the university administration.

During the student rally at 2 p.m., Honest Cheung, a sophomore who was one of the 39 arrested Nov. 9, spoke about what was prompting the student occupation. "We were getting beat for what those tents symbolized," he said. "When they increase our debt, they increase their profits. And that is why they use violence." Cheung said national student debt totals more than $1 trillion. "The first step to creating real change," Cheung said, "is the courage to say no to authorities."

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