What Really Killed Rosebud’

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Book investigates ‘What Really Killed Rosebud’
Sari Friedman Special to the Daily Planet March 1, 2001

Free speech… People’s rights…. Anarchy rules….
Few people expressed these principles more demonstratively than the iconic Rosebud Abigail Denovo, the tormented homeless 19-year- old People’s Park resident who was fatally shot by an Oakland police officer on Aug. 25, 1992, after she illegally entered the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s residence, machete in hand.

“What Really Killed Rosebud?,” a new book by Claire Burch, documentary filmmaker and East Bay homeless rights activist, investigates Rosebud’s short life and untimely death and gives a multifaceted view into her character. Was Rosebud Abigail Denovo – who’d changed her name from Laura Miller so her initials would spell the word “RAD” – fighting injustice and greed?

Or was she a mentally ill and dangerous troublemaker who posed a threat to herself and others?

Several chapters contain interviews with Rosebud’s friends and lovers, who speak evocatively of their appreciation for this 5-foot-1, 105 pound, blue eyed, brown haired, fierce, energetic and often angry activist.

She’s remembered as articulate, opinionated and intelligent. Her friends’ grief is brought home to the reader by cold-blooded reportage from autopsy reports. What Really Killed Rosebud? Were the police impatient and disrespectful?

Did they kill a young woman in order to protect the chancellor’s home furnishings? Did they send in a jittery officer – freshly back on the force after being shot five times by a burglar on his last case – on purpose to wipe Rosebud out?

Or was Rosebud on a suicide mission, despondent over facing a court date for sentencing on a previous offense, seeking martyrdom by adding yet another act of near-futile resistance to a history of near-futile revolts against authority.

One thing is certain: Rosebud’s short life was rough. Institutionalized in a psychiatric ward in childhood, she’d moved into an adulthood in which she couldn’t be certain of sleeping through the night.

Homeless shelters were dicey, there were rumors she’d been raped, and when she slept outdoors she was often wakened in the early hours by a police officer’s flashlight shining in her face and curt orders: “Get moving, Denovo!”

The officer who shot Denovo claimed he acted in self-defense. Rosebud’s friends felt regret that they hadn’t rushed to her defense.

As with any legend, there are unanswered questions. The truth about Rosebud’s last moments will probably never be known. But Rosebud’s fight to provide a haven for the homeless in People’s Park, and to homeless rights, is broadly acknowledged. People’s Park – bordered by Telegraph Avenue, Bowditch Street, Dwight Way and Haste Street – has long been at the center of the struggle between people’s and institutional rights.

A chronology at the close of Burch’s book describes the controversy over People’s Park, which started in 1957 when residents were evicted and houses demolished in order to make room for a UC Berkeley dormitory – which was never built. Eventually, the lot became an eyesore.

But in 1969 – when locals planted flowers and put in a playground – UC Berkeley put up a fence and “No Trespassing” signs and then the real trouble began. People’s Park was at the center of riots against the Vietnam War.

A “state of emergency” was called, and shotguns were fired. Over a hundred demonstrators were wounded, including Allen Blanchard who was permanently blinded, and James Rector who was killed.

Does Rosebud’s spirit keep watch over the tamped down grass and the damp, worn, pawed-over donations in the “free box?” What will happen to small bedraggled People’s Park? And what will happen to the legacy that Rosebud and other protesters left behind? Police Kill Protester at Berkeley In Break-In at Chancellor's Home

Police Kill Protester at Berkeley In Break-In at Chancellor's Home
By JANE GROSS, New York Times,August 26, 1992

BERKELEY, Calif., Aug. 25— A notorious local protester was shot and killed by the police today after breaking into the great stone mansion of Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien on the University of California campus here about 6 A.M. .

The intruder, 20-year-old Rosebud Abigail Denovo, was shot three times by an Oakland police officer after she attacked him with a machete, university officials said. Ms. Denovo had been scheduled to stand trial next month for possession of explosive devices, which the police said they discovered last summer at a crude encampment in the Berkeley hills, along with a list of potential targets, including several university officials.

Found along with the explosives and the list, the police said, were crossbows, arrows, a book called "Anarchist's Cookbook" with instructions for making homemade bombs, a campus map and a diary with Ms. Denovo's fingerprints on it that made threatening references to Chancellor Tien. Faced a Weapons Charge Ms. Denovo had also been arrested in the summer of 1991 for trespass and vandalism on campus and for carrying concealed weapons and attacking police officers at protests at People's Park. Volleyball courts were under construction there on university-owned land despite the objection of protesters and indigents who live on the unkempt 2.8-acre lot.

The Chancellor was unharmed in the incident today and, in fact, was unaware that someone had entered his house until he received a telephone call from the campus police, who were responding to a silent alarm. The police instructed Mr. Tien to secure himself and his wife in the bedroom until reinforecments from the Berkeley and Oakland police forces arrived, including a bomb squad and a canine search unit.

The Tiens had been escorted from the house by the time the shooting occurred, in a second-floor bathroom, police and university officials said. Mr. Tien conducted business as usual today, on the eve of the new term at the flagship campus of the state university, and declined interviews. According to Linda Weimer, the assistant vice Chancellor for public affairs, Mr. Tien was "his usual upbeat self," busy with senior staff meetings about the fate of the athletic program, which has been hit hard by budget cuts. Ms. Weimer said that the Chancellor, who is very sensitive to suggestions that the Berkeley campus is unsafe, was impressed by the quick work of security forces.

In the Chancellor's two years in office, the school has seen more than its share of deadly incidents, including a hostage crisis at a popular campus bar that left one student dead and nine wounded, a fraternity house fire that killed three students, and the first on-campus murder in nearly two decades. Today's violence recalled, most of all, the barroom hostage siege here in 1990, which ended in death for a deranged gunman with a history of psychiatric problems and a penchant for writing delusional letters to public officials.

Such crimes sometimes seem more common here than elsewhere in the nation, perhaps because the state of California in general, and the city of Berkeley in particular, are destinations of last resort for many people -- sort of emotional lands' ends. Ran Away as Teen-Ager. Ms. Denovo, whose real name is thought by law enforcement officials to be Laura Miller and who has been arrested at least a dozen times in the last 14 months, seems to fall into this category.

According to court documents in the explosives case, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, who was a teen-age runaway from Lexington, Ky., who listed her address as "nomad" on police reports. Ms. Denovo entertained ideas of overthrowing the government, blowing up the United States Capitol building, hijacking an MX missile, killing the President and the Pope and invading Chancellor Tien's home or office -- all schemes she wrote about in her diary.

That diary, and a probation report describing Ms. Denovo's long psychiatric history, were cited last winter in a copyrighted story in The San Francisco Examiner. An Alameda County District Attorney said today that the diary was sealed evidence in the pending explosives case, which has a second defendant, 30-year-old Andrew Barnum, who is also a well-known local protester. The park was foremost in Ms. Denovo's mind when she used a propane torch to melt the molding on a basement window and let herself into the Tien house today, said Lieut. Patrick Carroll, chief investigator for the campus police.

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