Here’s What Ronald Reagan Did When College Kids Went Ape At UC-Berkeley

Here’s What Ronald Reagan Did When College Kids Went Ape At UC-Berkeley

As governor of California, Ronald Reagan had to deal with rioting at UC-Berkeley. He sure didn’t tell police to stand down, like officials have for recent protests of conservative speakers.
Donna Carol Voss
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The University of California at Berkeley, the cradle of the free speech movement, just last week cancelled yet another conservative speaker. The college’s Young Republicans had invited Ann Coulter to speak on April 27. Campus officials cited “security concerns” as their reason for cancelling Coulter’s speech, but Coulter says it was all they had left after “imposing ridiculous demands” that hadn’t scared her away.

They demanded she speak off-campus; she acceded. They demanded she speak during the day when students are in class; she acceded. How mad are Berkeley officials that even though they cancelled her, she plans to speak on April 27 at Berkeley anyway? It’s almost like she has courage and a backbone.

Clearly, UC-Berkeley officials have neither, and this is not news. When the Young Republicans invited former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulis to speak in February, campus officials cancelled his speech a few hours before it was to start, also due to “security concerns.” They then hid behind their oak-paneled desks while violent protesters tore down metal barriers, broke windows, set fires, hurled rocks at police, attacked bystanders, and damaged a construction site.

Police were reportedly told to stand down and take no action against the violence. An attorney for the union representing UC-Berkeley police said, “When these rioters saw that there was no action taken against them, it emboldened them into acting more aggressively.” Indeed. When protesters were done demolishing the campus—to the tune of $100,000—they moved on to smash windows of local businesses.

What a Real Leader Does When Facing Petty Thugs

Where is Ronald Reagan when we need him? He would have put a stop to it all right quick. Reagan had made campus unrest at Berkeley one of his major campaign issues when he announced his candidacy for California governor in 1964:

[D]o we no longer think it necessary to teach self-respect, self-discipline, and respect for law and order? Will we allow a great university to be brought to its knees by a noisy dissident minority? Will we meet their neurotic vulgarities with vacillation and weakness? Or will we tell those entrusted with administering the university we expect them to enforce a code based on decency, common sense, and dedication to the high and noble purpose of that university?

Not unlike another wildly popular, yet wildly unpopular politician, Reagan was elected partly to restore law and order. A group of protestors put the governor to the test in 1969.

They had been using a vacant plot of land for protests against the Vietnam War and decided to block the university from developing it. The day in May 1969 when the university attempted to erect a fence around the plot of land is called “Bloody Thursday.” A rally called to protest the action drew thousands and soon turned into a riot. Reagan ordered the Berkeley police and California Highway Patrol to shut it down.

A campus publication tells what happened next: “[T]hree students suffered punctured lungs, another a shattered leg, 13 people were hospitalized with shotgun wounds, and one police officer was stabbed. James Rector, who was watching the riot from a rooftop, was shot by police gunfire; he died four days later.”

Then Reagan Doubled Down

In an extremely controversial move, for which he never apologized, Reagan declared a state of emergency and sent in 2,200 National Guard troops. He enacted a curfew and banned public assembly for two weeks. The National Guard patrolled the streets of Berkeley, dispersing any crowd of four or more. It wasn’t pretty, but they restored order.

There is a classic, should-be-in-the-Smithsonian clip of Reagan at a press conference after the fact with university administrators. He says: “Those people told you for days in advance that if the university sought to go ahead with that construction, they were going to physically destroy the university.”

Someone in the crowd shouts that Reagan should have negotiated with the students. Reagan, with the incredulity of someone who understands that youth don’t run the world for a reason, says: “Negotiate? What is to negotiate? All of it began the first time some of you who know better and are old enough to know better let young people think that they have the right to choose the laws they would obey as long as they were doing it in the name of social protest.”

To underscore the point, Reagan got up and walked out of the room. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

The university eventually caved to the People’s Park protesters, long after Reagan was out of office. They caved to the Yiannopoulis protesters in February. Now they’ve caved to the Coulter protesters. Cave, cave, cave, cave, cave. Every time they cave, they put another nail in the coffin of self-discipline, decency, common sense, and respect for law and order.

Where is Ronald Reagan when we need him?

Donna Carol Voss is a political commentator and co-author of the recently released "Deep Dive: Sanctuary Cities." She appears weekly on Ringside Politics WGSO 990 AM New Orleans.

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