2017 Berkeley protests
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The 2017 Berkeley protests refer to a series of protests occurred in the city of Berkeley, California in the vicinity of University of California, Berkeley. Violence has occurred predominantly between anti-Trump protesters, some of whom were anarchists, Antifa (anti-fascists) and other far-left radicals, and supporters of Donald Trump and the alt-right.
The first event occurred on February 1 when Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to give a speech. Two incidents, which occurred on March 4 and April 15, were pro-Trump rallies met with counter-protesters. Another rally occurred on April 27; hosted by Kyle Chapman, Brittany Pettibone, Lauren Southern, and others at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. This was scheduled after a planned speech by Ann Coulter was cancelled.
Timeline of protests
On February 1, Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to make a speech at the University of California, Berkeley at 8:00 pm. Prior, more than 100 UC Berkeley faculty signed a petition urging the university to cancel the event.
Over 1,500 people gathered on the steps of Sproul Hall to protest the event. The university said in a statement that the protest had been non-violent until it was interrupted by a group of around 150 people who they believe came from outside of the campus. The interrupting protesters, some identifying themselves as members of BAMN, set fires, damaged property, threw fireworks, attacked members of the crowd, and threw rocks at the police. Within twenty minutes of the start of the violence, the Yiannopolous event was officially canceled by the university police department due to security concerns, and protesters were ordered to disperse. The protests continued for several hours afterwards, with some protesters moving into downtown Berkeley. Among those assaulted were a Syrian Muslim who was pepper sprayed and hit with a rod by a protester who said “You look like a Nazi”, and a white woman, Kiara Robles, who was pepper sprayed while being interviewed by a TV reporter. One person was arrested for failure to disperse, and there was an estimated $100,000 in damage.
A pro-Donald Trump march in Berkeley on March 4 resulted in seven injuries and ten arrests after confrontations with counter-protesters. Police confiscated several weapons from attendees of the rally including baseball bats, bricks, metal pipes, pieces of lumber, and a dagger.
On April 15, several groups, including approximately 50 Oath Keepers, held a pro-Trump rally and were met by counter-protesters. Planned speakers included Brittany Pettibone and Lauren Southern. The event was organized as a free speech rally by Rich Black, who also organized the March 4 Trump event.
At Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park a “large number of fights” broke out, smoke bombs and fireworks were thrown into the melee, and pepper spray was used in the crowd. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Both groups threw rocks and sticks at each other and used a large trash bin as a battering ram as the crowd moved around the perimeter of the park.” Eleven people were injured, six of whom were hospitalized, including one person who was stabbed. Police “seized a handful of cans of peppers spray, some knives, and dozens of sign and flag poles, skateboards, and other blunt objects” from members of the crowd.
A Reuters reporter estimated that between 500 and 1,000 people were in the park at the peak of the rally. Various far-right activists in the crowd held up antisemitic signs, and some made Nazi salutes and used other neo-Nazi symbolism.
During the event, Nathan Damigo—a 30-year-old Cal State Stanislaus student and the founder of the white supremacist group Identity Evropa—punched a 20-year-old woman in the face, then ran into the crowd. The attack was captured on video and prompted calls for Damigo’s arrest or expulsion. Cal State Stanislaus stated that that they would investigate Damigo.
On April 18, 2017 administrators at UC Berkeley canceled a planned April 27 appearance on the campus by conservative columnist Ann Coulter, citing safety concerns. Coulter tweeted on April 19 that she would be coming to Berkeley to speak on that date regardless. On April 20, the University stated that they would host Coulter on May 2 at a “protected venue” that would be disclosed at a later date. Coulter declined to reschedule, noting that she was unavailable on May 2 and that UC Berkeley had no classes scheduled for that week, and said she would hold her speech on April 27 with or without the university’s consent. She later said that she did not intend to speak, but said she might attend the April 27 event. Alt-right activist Brittany Pettibone delivered remarks that promised that conservatives will refuse to stand down, which was met with applause from the crowd. Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes gave Ann Coulter’s planned speech at the event. Other speakers at the rally included Lauren Southern, a conservative-libertarian writer. There was concern the gathering would turn violent based on “social media feeds of militant left-wing and right-wing activists abuzz with plans to proceed with demonstrations and counter-demonstrations over the Coulter-Berkeley controversy.”
The International Socialist Organization organized an “Alt-Right Delete” rally at Sproul Plaza. About 150 people attended the rally and 70 police officers monitored the situation. Several hundred attended a “Freedom of Speech” rally at the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in Berkeley. The demonstrations were relatively peaceful; however, there was some tension as five were arrested, one for a weapons violation and another for drug possession.
Following the February 1 protest, a lawyer representing a local police union criticized the police administration for their “hands off” policy which prevented officers from preventing crime or making arrests. A police representative responded that they did not want to further escalate violence, and that the campus police were inexperienced in dealing with black bloc tactics. According to Berkeley Police chief Margo Bennett, they were waiting for reinforcements to come from Oakland Police and the Alameda County Sheriff before dispersing the crowds.
Following the February events, President Trump criticized the UC Berkeley on Twitter, asserting that it “does not allow free speech” and threatening to de-fund the university. After the incident, Yiannopoulos’ upcoming book, Dangerous, returned to number one for a few days on Amazon‘s “Best Sellers” list. According to Yiannopoulos’ Facebook post, he plans to return to Berkeley “hopefully within the next few months.”