Thousands of students filled Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza on Thursday to call for the return of Affirmative Action in California.

Protesters demanded the University of California Board of Regents overturn Standing Policy 1 and 2, which stopped the use of race and gender as a basis for admission in 1995. The regents are expected to reconsider SP-1 and SP-2 at a meeting March 14-15 at UCLA.

Rally leaders also demanded that the regents increase the number of minorities and women faculty on California campuses and expand a San Francisco desegregation plan, coordinator Ronald Cruz said. Cruz, a UC Berkeley student, said the protesters tried to send a message to the regents to repeal SP-1 and SP-2 next week.

“[We want] to make clear that there is a new civil rights movement that is integrated, that is massed, that is demanding that the UC Regents reverse the ban on Affirmative Action now,” he said. “We can win if we go to the UC Regents meeting next week. We have the numbers.”

Even if the regents agree with the protesters, it would be a symbolic victory, because Affirmative Action is outlawed in California under the voter-passed Proposition 209.

“[The protests send the message] that we will not go back, and it will make it clear that there’s a new movement that’s prepared to reverse the ban and integrate these schools,” Cruz said. “Students from the UC system can play a leadership role for the whole society.”

Close to 6,000 people attended the rally Thursday, Cruz said, although the San Francisco Chronicle estimated the number at closer to 2,000.

At one point, the protests got out of control, as students, many of them high school age, broke into and looted a shoe store on nearby Telegraph Ave. One person was hurt and no arrests were made, according to Berkeley police.

Cruz said the media overstated the scale of the looting.

“The biased media is often racist and tends to exaggerate, looking for things to propagandize against any progressive movement,” he said.

– Eric Simons