A number of news sources are terming a tussle last night on the corner of Telegraph and Durant as a “riot”. The only on-the-scene coverage seems to be the Daily Californian, which has been picked up and sensationalized by the Huffington Post (Berkeley RIOT: Fire, Destruction is the balanced headline, complete with the all-caps “RIOT”).

Reading the Daily Cal’s report, watching the YouTube video above, and having driven through the area this morning, riot seems a hugely overblown term for 200 people getting out of hand for a little more than one hour. Read the Daily Cal report, have a look at its slideshow and make up your own mind.

Lance Knobel

Lance Knobel (co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine in Britain,...

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19 Comments

  1. I realize that you all think you are very enlightened, but you are so far from enlightened that it is laughable. Do not commit a crime, if you commit a crime & a police officer shows up, comply with his requests & your arrest will go much smoother. This is especially true if you weigh 350lbs., have asthma & a heart condition. Berkelians are delusional nitwits, who have zero capacity for the reason & logic that is required for critical thinking. Keep posting 15 page diatribes & talking in circles, it changes nothing. In fact, you are only ensuring that your cause is lumped in with people who make excuses for, & attempt to diminish the impact black criminality has on communities, especially their own. And we will bounce back in the other direction, which will not be fun for your ilk. Not smart folks. Ever heard of the “sleeping giant?” You are poking him with a big stick. Countdown to the inept Obama leaves office………………………..

  2. Thomas:

    You raise many astute points. I cannot address them all in a form of this kind, but as others have observed many of the social protest movements of the 1960s were (ostensibly at least) oriented towards pressuring society to provide justice and equality to those who were largely excluded from the elites and power structure. Many of the contemporary university protests, by contrast, are mainly “self-oriented” or “self-interested.”

    The causes may often be laudable (keep tuition’s affordable, to maintain accessibility in public education etc.) but there is not a patina of altruism or a noble pursuit of social justice when you are simply militating for your own parochial self-interest. Every group does this in our “special interest” oriented society, but then you are just another cynical “lobby” and not a real “social justice movement.”

    And yes, there is a rogue, anarchistic, nihilistic streak to some of these protests which tends to capture the lion’s share of the attention (often to the detriment of the actual cause).

  3. Thomas:

    You raise many astute points. I cannot address them all in a form of this kind, but as others have observed many of the social protest movements of the 1960s were (ostensibly at least) oriented towards pressuring society to provide justice and equality to those who were largely excluded from the elites and power structure.

    Many of the contemporary university protests, by contrast, are mainly “self-oriented” or “self-interested.” The causes may often be laudable (keep tuition’s affordable, to maintain accessibility in public education etc.) but there is not a patina of altruism or a noble pursuit of social justice when you are simply militating for your own parochial self-interest.

    Every group does this in our “special interest” oriented society, but then your movement just becomes another cynical “lobby” and not a real “social justice cause.” And yes, there is a rogue, anarchistic, nihilistic streak to some of these protests which tends to capture the lion’s share of the attention (often to the detriment of the actual cause).

  4. s z underwood,

    At some point, though, don’t we have to draw a distinction on the question of goals and intent?

    The 67/68 and there abouts uprisings mostly sought well defined political changes. To be sure, not all participants were “with the program” or even necessarily part of any program. And, to be sure, there was the leadership was divided into factions with different goals. But overall, the uprisings were aimed at bringing about specific well-defined changes within the existing social order. End the draft. Withdraw from Viet Nam. Earlier, end segregation. Oust DeGaul. Turn over factories to workers. Don’t respond to strikes with police. That kind of thing.

    The visions of change there were sometimes quite narrow (e.g., don’t suppress free speech on campus) and sometimes radical (replace the government) but in every case this could be understood as a program of reforms to an overall system that would largely remain untouched. There was a notion that the rules of the system contained some bugs but that these could be fixed.

    I think that no small part of what we’re seeing nowadays is not like that at all. There’s no hopeful vision behind an event like the one on Telegraph. There’s only a recognition that crowds are hard to control, that street parties can be fun, and the the odds of the average participant getting busted are small. It’s a form of nihilism from a generation that sees itself getting down to its last straws.

    It’s unrealistic to criticize the recent protests as having “inherent limitations to enact real social transformation” for two reasons: On the one hand, no particular transformation appears to be intended by a majority of participants. On the other hand, as the frequency of this kind of event increases, transformation of a sort – specifically random but large change – is inevitable.

    In other words, what I think you’re seeing here is a loss of loyalty to the social order or to any pretensions of it making a progressive transformation. It’s devolving into just pure, insistent, *objection* to that order.

  5. Earlier in this comment thread, Lance reasonably speculated based on the ages of the two arrested ringleaders that they were probably not students (28 & 26). According to the Daily Cal, the 28 year old is a “UC Berkeley Senior,” perhaps a reentry student or someone taking her time graduating (if she entered at 18, that would be a 10 year undergraduate career — in that case, some of her evident frustration and rage which she exhibits in several different youtube videos is quite comprehensible:):

    Marika Goodrich, 28, a UC Berkeley senior, was arrested at the intersection of Durant and Telegraph avenues and booked for assault on a police officer, inciting a riot and resisting arrest, according to Berkeley police Officer Andrew Frankel.

    BTW, it’s obvious that the sometimes romanticized student protest movements of the 1960s provide ongoing inspiration to activist students. Berkeley was both the genesis and focal point of these student uprisings, but parallel movements existed not only at “sister colleges” in the USA, but also in Europe. Anyone interested in a very astute and skeptical analysis of the 1960s student protest movement might wish to read a novel called “Behind the Glass” (eng. version 1972) by the French novelist and university professor, Robert Merle. The novelist was a professor at the campus which spurred the famous May ’68 student uprising in Paris. “Behind the Glass” details the origins of this movement and suggests its inherent limitations to enact real social transformation.

  6. My mothering motto is:
    Everyone has to deal with their anger, no one has the right to be hostile and take out their anger on others.

  7. A pleasantly civil discussion has broke out here about the suitability of the word “riot” to describe these events and good points have been made on all sides.

    I’d like to toss some new thoughts into the mix, hopefully in a similar spirit:

    First, I don’t much care, myself, if we call it riot or not. It doesn’t matter. Everyone agrees that bad stuff happened. Stupid stuff happened. It was a mess. It is whatever it is. I don’t have any big “theory of riots” that feels important here. If I just want to speak harshly of the lameness of some of the actors, I’ll just stick to swear words.

    Second, the word I hear is that the initial gathering was organized as a “flash mob” kind of event. As in, someone tweets and sends out a few emails etc. to the effect “Hey, big dance party at south campus in 20 minutes. B thr r b ^2.” Hopefully outcomes like this event help younger people to begin to reconsider the wisdom of that pattern of social organization.

    Third, outside agitators or no, we ought to examine what inspires this kind of action. Some are saying that this was all about tuition fees and such but that’s obviously not a complete account. Among people my age and older, you often hear “what a bunch of brats – at least back in the late ’60s people had the draft to complain about; lives were on the line. This stuff is BS.” So, what’s really going on? Is it just a bunch of “entitled” brats acting out?

    I have a couple of hypotheses about that:

    a) In part, the economic malaise and social disruption of the late 60s and 70s did indeed, as so many on the extreme have noted, disrupt traditional patterns of parenting and education in problematic ways. This carried over and began to roll over in generational terms into the 80s and 90s. Younger people today grew up a lot more “protected” and a lot less stimulated and interactive, on average. If you can say that there is such a thing as the median level of socialization, it has fallen precipitously over the past few decades.

    b) A lot of the attitude I hear from younger people concerns their economic reality. The common refrain is “We [younger people] are both powerless and f-ed. Long-term, seriously, no recourse f-ed. You [older] people have no appreciation for how bad things look to us. None of your pretensions of social progress have any relevance at all to what we’re looking at. You’re damn right we’ll mess your s-t up wherever and whenever we can get away with it. You’ve afforded us no conditions in which to succeed. We’ll repay you by attacking your conditions to maintain your order.”

    Am I a bit unfair in stereotyping the upbringing of modern young people as in (a) – perhaps, but I hope not entirely. Is the attitude of (b) not so widespread as I think? Well, at least I’m pretty sure it’s pretty widespread. Is the attitude of (b) a realistic response to real situations? Looking around at the economy, I think its not a productive response – but a realistic one.

    Basically, we shouldn’t act so surprised. And appeals to decency aren’t going to cut it in the absence of any good answers to the problems that result in the attitude of hopelessness.

    It’s only going to get worse. This was a minor event compared to what we should expect on current trajectories.

  8. Laura, that’s very helpful. Thanks for passing that Berkeley Police announcement on. Interesting to see that the two arrests were of a 28-year old and a 26-year old. Probably not students.

  9. I objected to the word riot, particularly as used by the HuffPost with all caps, because I think it inflates a minor, quickly contained incident into something with wider repercussions. Some commenters disagree with me, which is why we encourage comments.

    It’s interesting to note that the news reports I’ve seen since this morning have toned down their language, using terms like “violent protests”. Again, the HuffPost is leading the charge for inflammatory rhetoric, having recently sent out a tweet to say “CA college campuses are burning”. That’s just stupid.

    I agree with you, Tree, that there is a profound shift occurring in society. I’m more skeptical that last night’s violence was symptomatic of that shift. We’ll see.

  10. Notice from BPD PIO emailed to neighborhood crime prevention leaders

    Good afternoon,

    Here is what I can share with regard to last night’s events:

    At 1:41a.m. we responded to a request for emergency assistance made to us by UCPD Dispatch. They were monitoring approximately 200 protesters who had occupied a building on campus and now were moving into the intersection of Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way. UCPD Dispatch further advised that the protesters were smashing windows and knocking over garbage cans as they moved Southbound. Officers arrived on scene minutes later and were pelted intermittently with projectiles launched at them from the crowd (rocks, bottles, a fire extinguisher, and the cap from a fire hydrant).

    The rioters set a dumpster on fire in the intersection of Durant and Telegraph Avenue. The officers formed a line and had to push the crowd back so that Berkeley Fire Department could extinguish the flames.

    To deal with a crowd of this size, day shift patrol officers were called in early and a request for mutual assistance went out to Oakland Police Department (sent 19 officers), California Highway Patrol (sent 10 officers), BART Police Department (sent 5 officers), the Alameda County Sherriff’s Office (two units), and the Albany Police Department.

    The crowd was moved out of the area and finally dissipated at 3:06 a.m. with officers remaining in the area until 4:15 a.m.

    At this point property damage is limited to broken glass doors at a business on the 2300 block of Telegraph (Subway) and four garbage cans and a dumpster were set ablaze.

    Two arrests were made in connection with the riot. The arrested parties have been identified as:

    1. Marika Goodrich, 3-2-81, of Berkeley

    Booked for Inciting a Riot, Resisting Arrest, and Assault on Police Officer

    2. Zachary Miller, 6-5-83, of Berkeley

    Booked for Inciting a Riot, Resisting, Arrest, and Obstructing a Police Officer

    During the course of the incident two officers received minor injuries but none required medical treatment.

    As a result of this riot there are several on-going investigations. I don’t anticipate having anything else further to share until Monday.

    Ofc ANDREW J. FRANKEL, #25

    Public Information Officer

    City of Berkeley Police Department

    “Crime, Respect, Accountability”

  11. I think the word riot applies. I am curious, Lance Knobel, that you feel an urge to deflate the language associated with last night’s violent, chaotic and undisciplined behavior. Some of those young people clearly got caught up in some exciting energy and were out of control. And I venture to guess that if competent police had not arrived quickly, that the mob of young people would have wrecked more damage than they did. That’s a riot.

    I live in downtown Berkeley. on the sixth floor. I was awakened by the helicopters. I didn’t call the police last night to ask why helicopters were blasting downtown with their noise because I had called the last time. The last time there was a demonstration at UC, news helicopters hovered over the city for hours so last night I assumed the same thing.

    I think the reason last night’s riot is getting some national news coverage is related to what is happening in the larger society, not just the university or the State of California. There is deep unrest in the citizenry, much anger. The last time widespread public anger erupted, it got started here, in Berkeley, at UC. There is a hard edginess in this country right now, people are fearful. Many are starting to absorb the reality that millions of people have lost the economic lives they expected to live. Many are adjusting to the fact that they are never going to live better than their parents, which was a common standard for several generations. We are undergoing a very deep, difficult shift. Last time we collectively underwent a huge national shift, it started here. I am curious to see if the demonstrations at UC are the tip of a new iceberg of unrest. And, I submit, the fact that last night’s demonstration unfolded as it did is related to the larger social unrest.

  12. Lance,

    The tree sitters discredited the neighborhood effort to address the stadium expansion issue, ultimately hijacking civic discourse. Funding education is an important issue, allowing a bunch of knuckleheads (at best) hyped on drugs anarchists (more likely) to destroy property and start controlling civic engagement would be a travesty AGAIN. Rioters, yes, self centered idiots, yes, entitled punks I could go on…….

  13. This event was not a planned demonstration which turned violent, they did not have a demonstration permit for the impromptu late night campus dance party.

    Wikipedia:

    A riot is a form of civil disorder characterized by disorganized groups lashing out in a sudden and intense rash of violence against people or property. While individuals may attempt to lead or control a riot, riots are typically chaotic and exhibit herd behavior.

  14. From the photos, this doesn’t look like the kind of activity that I associate with a productive demonstration in support of public education. I might use a term that isn’t as semantically loaded as “riot” but I’d say 200 people burning garbage on the street at 2 in the morning is slightly more serious than “getting out of hand.” “Violent demonstration” is a pretty apt description. It was pretty inappropriate in light of the cause.

  15. Lance

    from Daily CAL comments a student writes during the “riot” to the partying anarchists:

    Do you people READ the news? Schwarzeneggar is proposing an amendment to the state constitution so that a minimum 10% of the budget goes to higher education. The non-violent protests WORKED.

    STOP BURNING GARBAGE CANS. YOU MAKE US ALL LOOK LIKE SHIT.
    Today, 3:39:28 AM

    Party or Riot? When morons start fires in dumpsters they cross the line and are feeding off their own entitlement and chaos, so yes it was a riot, which was contained by experienced cops from at least three different agenices.

    We cannot afford this idiots lawlessness.