By Tracey Taylor, Lance Knobel and Emilie Raguso
Update, Nov. 10: Listen to Berkeley High Principal Sam Pasarow, Berkeley High Black Student Union co-president Alecia Harger, and Berkeleyside co-founder Lance Knobel discuss the walkout and what provoked it on KQED Forum. The 25-minute segment was broadcast on Friday Nov. 6 at 9:30 a.m.
Update, Nov. 5, 5:10 p.m. Thursday afternoon, school officials announced they had identified the student responsible for the hate crime.
Update, 3:40 p.m. Thursday’s demonstration and march through Berkeley, from the high school up to the Cal campus, went smoothly and was devoid of disturbances or arrests.
“We didn’t have any problems,” said Officer Byron White, a Berkeley Police spokesman. “From our standpoint it was terrific.”
White said officers took a “crowd management” approach aimed to facilitate the efforts of the marchers, by blocking traffic and keeping the roadways clear. There were no confrontations between students and vehicles, and no one was arrested.
White credited the demonstration’s organizers with making it clear, in a rally at Berkeley High before the march, that the goal was to raise awareness about the hate crime on campus Wednesday and the school’s response to that incident.
The atmosphere of Thursday’s march, which was spirited yet peaceful, has been compared to another march organized by Berkeley High students in December that was part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Update 1:50 p.m. Berkeley High students returned to campus at about 1:10 p.m. and police said in a Nixle alert that all roadways had reopened.
Update, 12:50 p.m. The crowd is about to begin making its way back to the Berkeley High campus. The school sent out an email asserting that classes will be held Thursday afternoon.
Principal Sam Pasarow, on scene at the demonstration, credited the efforts of its organizers with keeping the event peaceful and focused.
“I absolutely support the protests. The leadership the students have shown today is incredible,” he said. “I’m all in favor of the importance of instructional minutes in the classroom, but this learning experience is incredible for the students.”
Pasarow said he plans to hold an all-school assembly at Berkeley High on Dec. 9 — the day targeted by racist threats left on the library computer Wednesday — that will look at the contributions of the African-American community.
Pasarow said the school is working to find out how the threats were posted, and who is responsible. And he said, though he is generally a proponent of restorative justice practices, “because of the terroristic nature of what happened, I’m not sure restorative justice is effective.”
Update, 12:35 p.m. The crowd, which numbers about 700, is walking up to the UC Berkeley Campanile chanting, “No justice, no peace.”
Said BHS student Alecia Harger, one of the leaders of the school’s Black Student Union, “It’s really heartening to see this many people turning out. It’s a great event of healing for black students from Berkeley High who had to endure this incident.”
Harger and Nebeyat Zekaryas, co-presidents of the Berkeley High School Black Student Union, have been credited with organizing Thursday’s demonstration.
Principal Sam Pasarow is on the scene and, after a shout-out from Harger thanking him for his support, he raised his fist in solidarity with the crowd.
The marchers are primarily Berkeley High students, whose numbers have remained largely constant throughout the peaceful, well-organized demonstration.
Said Berkeley High senior Dante Ryan, of the BHS BSU, “Never have I seen something this unified. All the legends of the civil rights movement are looking down on us real proud.”
Added Berkeley High junior Mayely Luna: “I think it’s amazing how we can all come together for a really important cause and not let this injustice stand.”
Update, 11:55 a.m. The Berkeley High demonstration is now at Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus. BPD put out a Nixle alert shortly before noon saying roads were reopened after the group moved onto the campus. BPD estimated the number of demonstrators at more than 700 people: “The Berkeley Police Department is monitoring the demonstrators and providing traffic control for the group and general public.”
Students on Sproul chanted: “You’re the ones who showed us how, UC Berkeley join us now,” which is similar to a chant used when BHS students took a Black Lives Matter protest to the university campus in December.
Update, 11:43 a.m. The demonstration has crossed Telegraph Avenue, still heading to UC Berkeley.
Update, 11:30 a.m. The demonstration is heading to UC Berkeley and is now on Channing Way near Ellsworth, according to Berkeleyside’s Lance Knobel who is on scene.
Update, 11 a.m. The demonstrators have moved on from outside Old City Hall and are reportedly on their way to the UC Berkeley campus. At 11:15 a.m, they were heading eastbound toward Cal on Channing Way, according to BPD, which issued a second Nixle alert.
Update, 10:50 a.m. Berkeley Police issued a traffic advisory via a Nixle alert at 10:49 a.m. advising people to avoid the area around Berkeley High School, because of a “large demonstration in progress.” On Twitter there have been complaints about TV news helicopters flying over central Berkeley to report on the protest.
Update, 10:40 a.m. A number of student protesters have walked off campus headed through Civic Center Park to Old City Hall, after hearing from Principal Sam Pasarow and Superintendent Donald Evans at the rally in the school’s central courtyard.
Update, 10:15 a.m. Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Donald Evans addressed the rally before 10 a.m. Evans said: “I am here because I stand with you.… Racism, bullying will not be tolerated here in Berkeley.”
He said he hoped the community could pull together to make the school “a safe place,” and added, “I want to know who did this.” After being interrupted by demonstrators, Evans said: “I understand the anger right now, I understand the high levels of emotion.”
BHS Principal Sam Pasarow also addressed the crowd.
Original story: Hundreds of Berkeley High students chose to forgo attending class Thursday morning to hold a rally in front of the Community Theater in the heart of the campus. Speakers at the rally included senior Dante Ryan, Damani McNeil and representatives of the Berkeley High Black Student Union, who organized the demonstration.
The walkout was prompted by the response to Wednesday’s incident in which a racist message threatening violence against African Americans was found at around 12:30 p.m. on a library computer.
The students appear to be dissatisfied with the response of the Berkeley High administration to the incident.
The school’s principal, Sam Pasarow, put out an email message to the school community at around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“This incident happened at 12:30, and I didn’t hear about it till 10:30 p.m.?” said one student at the rally, according to student Lucy Rosenthal, who was live tweeting the protest from campus.
Another said more needed to be done: “Time & time again the black community has been threatened, oppressed and I’m sick and tired…. An email is not sufficient.”
Protesters held signs that read: “Black Lives Matter,” “Yup I’m Black,” and “We will not be silent,” among others.
In his email, and replica phone message that went out at 8 a.m. Thursday, Pasarow described the incident as a hate crime, and said it “will not stand in our community. I assure you that we are giving this investigation the utmost attention, as well as involving the Berkeley Police Department.” He concluded by saying, “Even as we continue our investigation we recognize the need to address the harm that this has caused,” and said staff would be meeting to talk about “how to support and care for our students.”
Berkeleyside has reached out to BUSD for comment and, as at 10:15 a.m. had a reporter headed to the school. We will continue to update this story as it develops.
Racist threats posted on Berkeley High library computer (11.04.15)
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This post was updated repeatedly after publication due to the developing nature of the story.