Impact Statement from Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau and Mrs. Birgeneau
[caption id="attachment_214" align="alignleft" width="172" caption="The Chancellor prepares for battle."][/caption]
On the evening of December 11, 2009, just after 11:00 p.m. a mob of some 40 to 100 rioters, masked and carrying torches, carried out a violent assault on University House, which is the official residence of the Chancellor and his wife. The mob of masked rioters had rampaged through the streets of Berkeley, where they picked up prefabricated, accelerant-laced torches, lit them and proceeded to attack our home. Mary Catherine and I were on the second floor of the building when we heard a cacophony that was reminiscent of the noise in a full scale battle as portrayed in many war movies. Trapped on the second floor, we felt in severe physical danger as the mob, having smashed exterior light fixtures, attempted to break into our home by smashing through windows and attempting to set fire to the house.
The mob pulled down a Christmas wreath from the front door and attempted to light it on fire and lodged torches into the trees and shrubbery surrounding our home. They attempted to break into the house by ramming the front door with a garbage can and smashing through the front windows with their feet and other objects, possibly including large terra cotta planter pots which they broke. There was an extremely flammable Christmas tree just inside the front door. The windows were assaulted with such force that part of one interior wooden window frame was dislodged and glass from one of the windows sprayed five feet into the house. Mary Catherine and I felt terrorized.
We feared that this violent attack would continue to escalate as the rioters attacked the police vehicle that arrived on the scene after our call for help. Rioters attacked the officers, throwing lighted torches at their vehicle, and volatile embers entered through the open windows.
The attack received national and international media coverage and created immense anxiety for our safety and for our immediate families, including our four children and Mary Catherines two brothers and her 100 year old mother in Canada.
Following the attack, at least two persons, one seemingly deranged, came to University House in, the next days, urged on in their minds by the rioters’ actions.
The University has suffered damage, not only in the cost of many thousands of dollars of destruction to University property, and the additional security now required for University House, but sadly, to Berkeley’s reputation. The negative publicity associated with this violent assault has far outweighed any good which has derived from the peaceful student protests on campus.
Mary Catherine and I are still shaken by the fact that these acts were committed intentionally, with malice and reckless disregard for possible consequences to our safety and well-being.
Those who were at the scene, even if they were not explicitly involved in the assault, provided moral support to these violent actions and by wearing masks and carrying torches encouraged and ratified the mob’s violent and destructive conduct.
Robert J. Birgeneau