Photo: Ted Streshinsky; courtesy of the Streshinsky Family. Image used by kind permission of Heyday Books.
50 years ago, a group of students, activists and community members transformed a muddy, junk-filled parking lot into a park. When the University of California, under heavy pressure from Gov. Ronald Reagan, tore up the grass and surrounded the land with a heavily-guarded fence, this response triggered a surreal and tragic set of events. The maelstrom of violence that engulfed Berkeley in May 1969 would be almost impossible to believe if the cameras hadn’t been rolling.
Dozens were shot, hundreds were arrested, and thousands were teargassed – protesters and innocent bystanders alike. During the military occupation of Berkeley by National Guardsmen, a helicopter launched a chemical attack on the University campus, children were surrounded by bayonet-wielding soldiers, and journalists were detained under the supervision of brutally sadistic guards. Following the upheaval, Gov. Reagan cracked, “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with, no more appeasement.”