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Street wars in Berkeley, Demonstrations supporting French students and striking workers turn violent

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It was June 1968. It seemed as if the world had descended into violence.

Andy
Warhol, the platinum-haired Pop artist whose cheeky soup can paintings
rocked the art world, nearly died after being shot. Just two days later,
a prominent American family suffered another tragedy when Senator
Robert F. Kennedy was killed after claiming an important political
victory.

By
month’s end, the Basque separatist group ETA had made its first killing
in the quest for freedom and bulldozers had mowed down a huge
encampment on the National Mall that had been occupied by protesters
wanting to bring attention to the poor.

But
it was striking French workers and students and their displeasure with
the policies of President Charles de Gaulle that inspired some American
youths to take a stand and express their desires for change.
Unfortunately, their demonstrations were soon marred by violence.

On
the night of June 28, 1968, students had gathered in front of one of
Berkeley’s most recognized landmarks to show their solidarity with their
French counterparts. More than 2000 people gathered at the University
of California at Berkeley to stage a protest of their own.

According
to a June 29 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the first clash
came when police chief William Beales told protesters their
demonstration was illegal. More than a dozen officers began to walk down
Telegraph Ave. coaxing those seated in the street to get up and on the
sidewalk. When that move failed, hundreds of police armed with
nightsticks began to march, only to be greeted with bottles and garbage
raining down from apartment windows.

Soon, sticks were replaced with canisters and tear gas enveloped retreating protesters in thick noxious clouds.

But
the battle wasn’t over. A short while later, hundreds of students
erected a massive barricade made of trash cans, bike racks and other
objects in front of the university’s famed Sather Gate. Minutes after it
went up, more tear gas was launched and a bonfire blazed in the
street.

Violence
flared again the next evening but this time the crowds were bigger and
better prepared. Many donned helmets and gas masks when their peaceful
demonstration devolved into chaos.

At
night’s end, fires had broken out over several blocks. A furniture
store was in flames. Molotov cocktails flew, windows were smashed and
police continued to use chemical weapons.

A month that had started with violence unfortunately ended with violence; June had left America in shock.