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Free Speech Movement

By Jay Coulter As the years have passed, we have each encountered events or situations that have received massive press coverage. These events could be anything from the 9-11 planes hitting the Twin Towers, to assassinations, mass shootings, the Cuban Missile Crisis, serious earthquakes, or wild fires. How we were impacted by these events could be different for each of us, depending on any number of facts. One of the “events” I encountered was the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley. It took place in late 1964. I was a student there at that time. I was married and had a year old daughter. I worked nights but managed to schedule enough classes to move toward my bachelor’s degree. The Free Speech Movement began on October 1, 1964, when

By Jay Coulter

As the years have passed, we have each encountered events or situations that have received massive press coverage. These events could be anything from the 9-11 planes hitting the Twin Towers, to assassinations, mass shootings, the Cuban Missile Crisis, serious earthquakes, or wild fires. How we were impacted by these events could be different for each of us, depending on any number of facts.

One of the “events” I encountered was the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley. It took place in late 1964. I was a student there at that time. I was married and had a year old daughter. I worked nights but managed to schedule enough classes to move toward my bachelor’s degree.

The Free Speech Movement began on October 1, 1964, when a former Berkeley student was arrested on campus for violating the rules regarding political speech and action. The student demonstrations which followed were intense and became violent. One of the leaders said the university was a “heartless, overly bureaucratic machine”, and urged students to “throw their bodies into the machine’s gears” to stop it.

The students then adopted the practice of “going limp” when arrested. This meant the officers would be forced to carry them or drag them to the vehicles which would transport them to jail.
The various demonstrations disrupted campus activities for two or three months.

While I was not participating in this activity, it certainly had an impact on my daily behavior. It was difficult! Frequently the student demonstrators would block a building, or totally shut down a path to another section of the campus. Many of the classrooms were blocked, and many of the classes were canceled.

The Free Speech Movement began in 1964 when UC Berkeley students protested the university’s restrictions on political activities on campus. Small sit-ins and demonstrations escalated into a series of large-scale rallies and protests demanding full constitutional rights on campus. This led to the university overturning policies that would restrict the content of speech or advocacy. Today, the Movement stands as a symbol of the importance of protecting and preserving free speech and academic freedom. (Text and photo: Berkeley, University of California)

Some of the demonstrators were speaking with bull horns to support their cause, sometimes referring to the police as “the blue-coated Gestapo”.
From the beginning there were three police agencies involved, the California Highway Patrol, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, and the Berkeley Police Department.

A major phase of the demonstration occurred on December 2, 1964. Over 5,000 students gathered outside Sproul Hall on the Berkeley campus, and 1,500 of them entered the building for a “sit-in”. When they refused to leave, the arrests began. Due to the large number of students, additional help was requested from other agencies.

On the following morning, December 3, 1964, a request was made to the Oakland Police Department to assist the Berkeley Police in moving arrested students to the transporting vehicles. The request was granted, and many Oakland Police Officers were ordered to the Berkeley campus.
During the following twelve-hour period, 796 student demonstrators were arrested inside Sproul Hall.

Many of these officers were not aware of the “going limp” practice by the students. When faced with this, some of the officers used force to move those arrested into custody while other officers recognized the issues the students were facing and spoke calmly to them, describing the process of arrest, and the choices available. If the students cooperated, there were methods of moving them carefully, reducing the chance of injury while going down a flight of stairs, or up and down over curbs, and holding their clothing in such a way that nothing would be torn. Many, but not all, officers used this method.

After the increasingly violent protests, the Berkeley faculty voted to support the demonstrators, and the administration changed the rules, to follow the requests of the Free Speech Movement.
Things did, more or less, return to normal.

Did I mention that the nighttime job I had at this time was, in fact, with the Oakland Police Department? On the morning of December 3, 1964, I was one of the officers ordered to assist the Berkely Police with their arrests. It was the only time I had ever been in uniform on campus. I was there for five and a half hours, assisting in the arrest of many of my fellow students. Those arrests were, of course, non-violent.

I was an Oakland Police Officer for three years. I left when I was admitted to Law School at Berkeley. I later became a prosecutor with the California State Attorney General, and finally with the San Diego County District Attorney.

December 3, 1964 was an unforgettable day.

Phtoto: Jay Coulter



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