Punished with Three Years in Prison for Blocking a Door at Berkeley

By Stanley Heller

You may have read on Mondoweiss that the student newspaper "The Daily Californian" allowing Islamophobe David Horowitz free rein to attack Students for Justice in Palestine. Horowitz is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as "the godfather of the modern anti-Muslim movement". That reminded me of an article that I wrote for "The Daily Californian" that an editor said she wanted and then never printed, an article about the only person who received significant punishment for his role in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement of 50 years ago. It's about Lenni Brenner who was sent to prison for over three years on the urging of University of California officials. I called it: "Should the University Recompense Someone It So Severely Wronged?"

Brenner served years in prison and went on to write or edit a number of important books. The article was not published by the Daily Cal and questioning emails were unanswered. Evidently even 50 years later the "Californian" is afraid to criticize long dead university officials. We publish the article on Lenni Brenner's birthday.

With all the publicity about the 50th Anniversary of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, there has been no mention of the person who suffered the most for it, who was sent to prison for his FSM activities at the behest of University of California officials, and who never received an apology or compensation. His name is Lenni Brenner, the author of "Zionism in the Age of the Dictators", and the editor of "Jefferson & Madison On Separation of Church and State."

After blocking a Sproul Hall door on October 2, 1964, he was arrested with hundreds of others. He was put in jail and then sent to prison. He emerged 39 months later, in 1968. No one else even remotely received this kind of punishment.

There's obviously more to this. Brenner didn't get directly punished for his FSM actions. He was sent to prison after a judge revoked his probation for what today, to most Americans, is an inoffensive activity. University officials persuaded the judge in his case to revoke Brenner's probation for the offense of possessing a single marijuana cigarette butt.

In those days the California sentence for that dread crime was 1 to 10 years in prison. Brenner was given that sentence, but it was suspended and he was put on probation. After being part of the FSM, the sentence was enforced.

Before we go further, a word about names. Lenni was born Leonard Brenner. His father died when he was an infant, and his mother later remarried to a man named Glaser. Legally he became Leonard Brenner Glaser. When he began writing books in the 1980s he professionally and personally became Lenni Brenner.

As a teenager, Glaser was a left wing New Yorker, who immersed himself in the Greenwich Village Left. He was a close friend of Bob Dylan and Dave van Ronk. In the early 1960's, he heard the call of the West and relocated to Berkeley.

He wasn't a student, he was a frequent "outside agitator," speaking at Bancroft and Telegraph rallies in favor of Black civil rights, against the Vietnam war and for reforming America's drug laws. Glaser got arrested in the San Francisco civil rights struggle in 1963 in an effort to get the Sheridan Palace hotel to hire "Negroes" as maids.

One day in 1963, Glaser was walking on Bancroft, highly intoxicated on Romilar, a legal cough medicine. A cop in a passing police car recognized him, stopped and took him to the local hospital. Doctors diagnosed Glaser's intoxication and told the cop to take him to one of their beds so he could sleep it off and then go home. Instead the cop searched Glaser, found a butt of a marijuana cigarette and arrested him. His trial took place in 1964 and he was sentenced to 1 to 10 years, suspended.

University officials were spooked by growing student anti-war and civil rights activism so they banned public speaking and tabling at the university. On September 30 Jack Weinberg became the Rosa Parks of 1964 when he set up a card table for the Congress of Racial Equality passed out its flyers and collected money for it. When he was arrested and put in a police car the civil rights struggle came to Berkeley.

Glaser wasn't there when Weinberg was arrested. He came to the campus the next day. Sproul Hall had been occupied by by Weinberg's supporters. The police decided to arrest the occupiers. Glaser and many others tried to block doors, but they were all arrested.

When the judge granted him a probation revocation hearing, he was given a state public defender. He told Glaser that he would do the best he could for him, but "the university has told the judge to send you to prison." Michael Rossman, a prominent Free Speech Movement activist and later a science teacher at the Berkeley science school confirmed this. In 2003 he wrote an article for CounterPunch about Glaser and the FSM. "University officials filed a petition to revoke Glaser's probation, on grounds (as later summarized by the appeals judge) that he "had been creating a disturbance and interfering with an officer in the performance of his duties" on September 30 and October 1. The University sent a representative to the probation hearing to testify against Glaser".

It was reported that way at the time with some embellishment. The article in the October 17 San Francisco Examiner was headlined, "Rioter Draws Term in Prison". We know this because it's reported that way in Glaser's FBI file which he obtained in the 1990's. The file cites the article as saying: "The sentence was passed following a hearing in Alameda County Superior Court in which campus policemen testified that Glaser had interfered with officers attempting to prevent demonstrators from entering University of California building and had been a member of a crowd surrounding a patrol car preventing police from carrying out an arrest of a student for trespassing." Some rioter!

We're obviously heading towards full national legalization of marijuana. Actually, it's hard to remember the last president who didn't smoke pot. Today, the fact that the University of California officials insisted that the judge should send someone to prison for years for possession of pot and sitting in front of their door in defense of free speech seems like an act of barbarism.

What should the university do today? Should it apologize and offer Glaser/Brenner a generous cash settlement? Should it hire him to lecture on his groundbreaking book, "Zionism in the Age of the Dictators"? It was highly praised in the London Times'1984 review. Should it employ him to do 39 lectures, one for every month he served in prison?

Perhaps you, dear reader, can call upon Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and President Janet Napolitano and make your suggestion.

For more information, look at my Oct. 2, 2014 video interview with Brenner about his FSM activism on You Tube - and his conversations in jail with future Black Panthers founder Huey Newton.