Berkeley Mayor Wants Cal to Reconsider ‘Free Speech’ Events

A fire burns on UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza during protest against an appearance by Breitbart News commentator Milo Yiannopolous. (Brittany Hosea-Small/UC Berkeley)

Updated, 12:50 p.m. Wednesday

Fearing a new round of violent confrontations on the city’s streets, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin says he wants University of California officials to consider canceling a planned September event that includes prominent far-right figures like Milo Yiannopoulos.

Berkeley Patriot, a conservative student publication, has been working to bring the former Breitbart News editor to campus as part of a planned Free Speech Week Sept. 24-27. There have also been reports that Breitbart chief Steve Bannon and right-wing commentator Ann Coulter would participate in the event.

In February, Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at Cal, but the event was canceled in the wake of protests that turned violent.

The unrest, driven largely by a group of “black bloc” militants, included vandalism on and off campus and a reported $100,000 in damage to Cal’s student union building.

The violence “spilled onto the streets and it resulted in vandalism and damages of local businesses and some people getting hurt in our community,” Arreguin said in an interview Monday, after he criticized UC Berkeley officials for failing to prepare better for that event.

The mayor said he’s concerned about a repeat of that episode in the wake of violence that erupted Sunday after a planned rally by right-wing activists sparked a massive counterprotest.

The “No to Marxism” rally drew only a handful of attendees to Berkeley’s Civic Center Park after organizer Amber Cummings called it off. The counterprotest attracted more than 7,000 people, by Arreguin’s estimate, who for the most part gathered and marched peacefully.

Arreguin acknowledged the counterprotest was mostly calm, with demonstrators singing, dancing and chanting. But what he called “a small group of extremists” caused violence, with some journalists threatened and right-wing protesters attacked.

“They came in here with the intent on committing violence and mayhem. They wanted to physically confront conservatives,” said Arreguin of the group of black-clad militants.

The Berkeley Police Department reported that there were six injuries and 13 arrests for a variety of charges, including assault with a deadly weapon.

Arreguin said he doesn’t want any more violence in Berkeley from either the far right or far left.

But if Yiannopoulos’s planned talk goes forward, he said he’d like to sit down with the university to discuss strategic plans to combat violence.

“I obviously believe in freedom of speech, but there is a line between freedom of speech and then posing a risk to public safety,” Arreguin told the San Francisco Chronicle. “That is where we have to really be very careful — that while protecting people’s free speech rights, we are not putting our citizens in a potentially dangerous situation and costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars fixing the windows of businesses.”

UC Berkeley officials say they’ll work with the city to address safety issues — and emphasized speakers have not been invited by the university itself.

“We appreciate and understand the mayor’s concerns, and the university will continue to work in close concert with the city in support of our shared commitment to the safety of our communities,” Cal spokesman Dan Mogulof said in a statement Wednesday. “We do want to make clear that the university did not ‘invite’ any of the speakers in question. Rather they are being hosted by registered student organizations that are legally independent from the campus. We have neither the legal right or ability to interfere with or cancel their invitations based on the perspectives and beliefs of the speakers. Where we do have discretion is around everything that has to do with the safety of our communities, and the well-being of those who may feel threatened or harmed by what some of these speakers may espouse. We can assure you that those priorities, along with our commitment to free speech, remain at the center of our planning and preparations.”

This story was updated to include UC Berkeley’s response to Mayor Arreguin’s concerns.

Berkeley Mayor Wants Cal to Reconsider ‘Free Speech’ Events 30 August,2017Alyssa Jeong Perry

  • Curious

    Blame the victim.

  • MikeCassady

    What life experience and depth of cultivation do Yiannopolus, Coulter and Shapiro have that suggests them to the UC campus Republicans and Berkeley Patriot as persons with something to say worth listening to. When the Free Speech Movement ocurred in ’64, it was inspired by a number of tables at the UC Berkeley campus entrance with literature advocating various forms of poitical action and thought. The campus had rules against such advocacy of action since the university is public and was obliged to attempt to avoid taking political sides. The students protested that they were adult enough to make up their minds about what opinions were worth believing. In the aftermath of World War II, there was a great deal for people sharpening their thinking skills to ponder: civil rights, the US involvement in Vietnam, the Joe McCarthy Communist witch hunt. The massive US military force was hungry to justify its continued existence in peacetime and the Civil Corps of Engineers was tirelessly daming up US rivers and paving over the countryside at a wild rate. Young college students were supposed to be the foot soliders of the Radiant Future in which US know-how and the good luck to have missed out on the direct destruction and violence of every other nation in the world was made for newly minted young agents to go forth and build the American Century. With growing critical skills from the intense intellectual environement at UC Berkeley, many students felt the urge to resist being forced into such a questionable historical duty without even being asked. The campus was alive with ardent arbitration of opinion of every stripe. Free opinion fixtures of campus life included “Holy” Hubert Lindsey preached passionate, toothless warnings of hellfire and damnation at the campus south entrance and the Hari Krishna dansed and sang mantras nearby to fill the air with peaceful sounds of tiny bells. The idea of free speech, as I recall, focused on the opinions to be freely shared and discussed, not on the dramatic qualities of the opinion giver, nor the person’s “look.” Ironically enough, Yannopolus, Coulter and friends are claiming with very straight faces the right to exercise their right free speech: how much more “politically correct” can one get. Opression would seem to be almost required. Perhaps they’ll bring their own sticks to beat themselves up with.


Alyssa Jeong Perry

Alyssa Jeong Perry is a on-call reporter at KQED. She’s had stories air on NPR and WBUR’s Here & Now, PRI’s The World and WNYC’s The Takeaway.  And her written stories have been published in The Guardian and The Nation.  For her reporting on immigration, Alyssa was honored as a 2015 Ford Foundation fellow through International Center for Journalists and a 2016 Mark Felt fellow with the UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program.   She’s also interned at Oregon Public Broadcasting and has her masters in journalism from the UC Berkeley. Before diving deep into journalism, she lived in Korea for almost four years and traveled extensively through Central America and Asia.

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