Clay Geerdes was on the streets of Berkeley when People’s Park happened, observing the actions on both sides and, as usual, taking photographs. Looking back, years later, he offered this description of the general situation.
Clay Geerdes: When People’s Park took place in Berkeley, in April of 1969, it wasn’t the beginning of anything. It was the climax of many things that had been happening for the past couple of years. A lot of local people participated in landscaping that empty lot Between Haste Street and Dwight Way. UC had left it a trash-filled mudhole and had not kept it up at all. In a few days, it was cleaned up by hundreds of people, many of them neighbors who lived along the street, then UC sneaked in during the early hours of the morning on May 15, put up a cyclone fence, and had the place guarded by Alameda County Tac Squad cops who laughed at the people who lived around the park, as they pulled up the trees and stomped on the flower beds. This type of insensitive, anti-community, asshole behavior triggered one of Berkeley’s largest riots as thousands of students and local people attacked and tore down the fence to reclaim the park and get some satisfaction.
“Well, it was short-lived, because you can’t fight fire with gasoline. Sheriff Frank Madigan armed his cops with shotguns and they started shooting people. Over a hundred people were treated at Highland and other local hospitals for shotgun pellet wounds and one student, James Rector, was killed when he was shot by a passing deputy. It was the Vietnam War come home. Governor Ronald Reagan was willing to destroy Berkeley in order to save it. He had a couple of divisions of paratroopers on standby down at Fort Ord, and he declared a state of emergency in Berkeley, sending in the National Guard. The army drove up and down Durant and Dana and Haste and Bowditch and other Berkeley streets, spraying pepper fog at us.”