The Free Speech Movement (FSM) at the University of California burst into headlines across the country with the sit-in by 1,000 students in Sproul Hall on Wednesday afternoon, December 2, and with the arrest, on Thursday, of 800 of them. The issue underlying the sit-in we can reserve until this story of The Day of the Cops is told.
At first it looked like a weak protest. FSM leader Mario Savio came out of Sproul Hall — the administration building on the Berkeley campus — to call for more support. But by mid-afternoon, about 1,000 students occupied all four floors. At 7 PM. the building was officially closed, and the law, students were told, was officially violated. Campus police guarded every door, but no attempt was made to remove the students. Inside with the demonstrators were several reporters (some with tape recorders) and one attorney.
Before the building closed, students left aisles for movement and were careful not to block doorways. After 7 o’clock, they set up their own “press room,” a food distribution center and a communications system. Jewish students conducted a Chanukah service. Two locked rest-rooms were opened, but carefully, by removing the hinges.
Off the campus, about 150 deputies from the Alameda County Sheriff’s office gathered, along with a contingent of Berkeley police and a sizable group from the California Highway Patrol. Also among the poised group of lawmen were about 200 policemen from neighboring Oakland — a police force notorious throughout northern California, particularly among Negroes.
University President Clark Kerr and Gov. Edmund C. Brown were both, a it happened, in Los Angeles. As the sit-in continued in what all witnesses agree was an orderly manner, Edwin Meese, deputy district attorney of Alameda County, phoned Governor Brown that the situation was out of hand and that enforcement action was imperative. Brown consulted with Kerr and with the president of the university’s Board of Regents, department-store magnate Edward V. Carter. The three agreed that intervention by the police was necessary, and Brown gave the order.
Meese and the army of policemen moved onto the campus. FSM leaders, who had set up a public-address system inside the building, advised all demonstrators under 18, all foreign students, and one who might be on probation to leave. Meese then pointed out the first arrestee: the attorney, Robert Truehaft.
With him out of the way, the police began at the top floor, arresting one demonstrator at a time, varying the order only to single out leaders. Carrying tape recorders, they addressed demonstrators individually, taking the name, then offering the option of dispersal, then making the arrest. Refusal to get up and walk (most refused) was also recorded. Students weren’t advised at this point, however, of their right to counsel — an omission on which some law professors believe their cases may eventually turn. Each arrestee was photographed with a number and taken to the basement.