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Millions and Increasing: The Expensive Toll of UC Berkeley’s Seizure of People’s Park

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UC Berkeley has been facing increasing costs related to the seizure and securing of People’s Park in Berkeley. The university spent $7.8 million to deploy its own forces to wall off and secure the 2.8-acre green space, with the total cost expected to rise as outside police agencies submit their bills. Additionally, the university pays nearly $1 million a month to station private security guards outside the park 24 hours a day.

The decision to clear and secure People’s Park was made in anticipation of the construction of a new housing complex on the Berkeley campus. However, litigation has delayed the construction of the housing complex, which would include units for students and supportive housing for homeless individuals, as well as a memorial to the park.

UC Berkeley officials revealed that they spent $2.85 million to build a 17-foot-high perimeter around the park, including costs for shipping containers, gates, lighting, equipment, and supervision. An additional $3.77 million went towards paying and housing the police officers and sheriff’s deputies involved in the park clearance operation. The total cost also includes expenses related to moving homeless individuals from the park to a Quality Inn.

The university is still awaiting bills from various police departments, including the California Highway Patrol, sheriff’s departments from Alameda and San Francisco counties, and nine other UC and Cal State University police departments. It is expected that these additional expenses will add millions of dollars to the overall cost of the park clearance.

In a statement, UC Berkeley spokesman Kyle Gibson explained that the operation was designed to prioritize safety, conflict avoidance, and minimal disruption for students and residents. The decision to secure the park was influenced by past experiences of vandalism, violence, and unlawful activities when the university tried to take control of the park in 2022.

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Activists who have long fought to keep People’s Park open expressed outrage at the high cost of the university’s actions. They criticized the perceived wasteful spending of public funds and the disruption of the homeless community that had formed in the park. However, university officials defended their actions, stating that the Quality Inn provides better living conditions for the unhoused residents.

Despite criticism of the steel barricade surrounding People’s Park, university officials maintain that it has been effective in keeping the park clear and ready for construction. The future of the park remains uncertain, pending a potential ruling by the state Supreme Court on whether construction will be allowed on the historic site.

In conclusion, the cost of UC Berkeley’s seizure of People’s Park has amounted to millions of dollars and is anticipated to continue rising as additional expenses are accounted for. The operation to secure the park has been met with criticism from activists and community members, highlighting the complex challenges and controversies surrounding the historic green space.

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Chats and reflections on the present moment.

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Lydia Polgreen

Credit…Will Heath/NBC, via Getty Images

It is a rare thing in our rapidly secularizing country to be confronted with piety and devotion in popular culture. So it was a surprise, and a balm, to watch a man who prays daily and talks openly about his devout faith storm a bastion of earthly godlessness: “Saturday Night Live.”

I am referring, of course, to the comedian Ramy Youssef, who hosted the show on what he described in his opening monologue as “an incredibly spiritual weekend,” noting Ramadan, Easter and the arrival of a new Beyoncé album.

“I’m doing the Ramadan one,” he quipped, to peals of laughter, unspooling a very funny bit about how loving Muslims are. Youssef has mined his experience as a believer among the profane in gentle standup specials and a namesake sitcom. His entire monologue glowed with a welcoming warmth — Muslims, he seemed to say: We’re just like you.

In a country that is supposedly obsessed with diversity and inclusion, it is remarkable how rare it is to hear from a practicing Muslim in America.

Surveys by the Institute for Policy and Understanding, a nonpartisan research organization focused on Muslim Americans, have consistently found that Muslims are the most likely group to report religious discrimination in the United States. According to a Pew survey conducted in 2021, 78 percent of Americans said that there was either a lot or some discrimination against Muslims in our society. Muslims are no more likely to commit crimes than members of any other group, but crimes in which Muslims are suspects get outsized media coverage, research has shown.

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It is no surprise, then, that Islamophobia is perhaps the most tolerated form of religious prejudice. Right now, Senate Republicans appear to have persuaded several Senate Democrats to vote against a Muslim judicial nominee after smearing him, with no evidence at all, as an antisemite.

Many of the skits that toyed with religion on “S.N.L.” on Saturday were funny — Ozempic for Ramadan! Genius. But part of me winced through them as well, because I saw in Youssef something that other members of minority groups have had to do to “earn” their place in the safety of the mainstream: the performance of normalcy, of being nonthreatening and sweet, the requirement to prove that your community belongs in America just like everyone else’s.

I loved Youssef’s monologue, in which he bravely pleaded, “Please, free the people of Palestine. And please, free the hostages. All of the hostages.”

“I am out of ideas,” Youssef declared toward the end of his monologue. “All I have is prayers.”

To which this nonbeliever can only say: Same, Ramy. Same.

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