A test of free speech

Berke­ley, the home of the famed move­ment, rolls out se­cu­rity mea­sures ahead of con­ser­va­tive writer’s talk

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Javier Pan­zar, Ben­jamin Oreskes and Teresa Watan­abe

BERKE­LEY — To see what free speech looks like in 2017 at the birth­place of the famed move­ment, con­sider the elab­o­rate prepa­ra­tions un­der­way for a talk Thurs­day by a con­ser­va­tive writer.

Ben Shapiro isn’t nearly as con­tro­ver­sial as some right-wing speak­ers who have roiled the cam­pus over the last year.

None­the­less, UC Berke­ley has told stu­dents that coun­sel­ing is avail­able to those stressed by all the com­mo­tion. A large swath of the cam­pus will be closed off, in­clud­ing the plaza where the free speech move­ment be­gan in the 1960s. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars have been spent on se­cu­rity, and po­lice can now use pep­per spray on pro­test­ers af­ter a 20-year-old ban was lifted by the City Coun­cil this week.

Shapiro’s ap­pear­ance is a key test for Berke­ley, which has been hit by a se­ries of vi­o­lent clashes be­tween far­left and far-right ag­i­ta­tors that have sparked soul-search­ing in this lib­eral com­mu­nity about the line be­tween protest and crim­i­nal be­hav­ior. Berke­ley has be­come a fa­vorite spot for far­right demon­stra­tors to speak out, know­ing they can get at­ten­tion and push but­tons in en­emy ter­ri­tory.

The Thurs­day event marks the start of a pa­rade of right-wing speak­ers who may be com­ing to cam­pus over the next month. They include for­mer White House chief strate­gist Stephen K. Ban­non and right-wing provo­ca­teur Milo Yiannopou­los, who

an­nounced that they will ap­pear as part of a “Free Speech Week” event on cam­pus.

The event is or­ga­nized by Yiannopou­los and a stu­dent group. On Tues­day, Berke­ley spokesman Dan Mogulof stressed that this event is far from a done deal — the stu­dent group hadn’t yet sat­is­fied the re­quire­ments for bring­ing a speaker or fol­lowed proper pro­ce­dure.

‘We’ve never seen a sit­u­a­tion like this’

But UC Berke­ley’s new chan­cel­lor, Carol T. Christ, has said al­low­ing th­ese talks is es­sen­tial, trum­pet­ing the be­lief that the best re­sponse to hate speech is “more speech” rather than try­ing to shut down oth­ers.

That leaves of­fi­cials with the task of keep­ing the peace — and try­ing to keep the var­i­ous war­ring sides un­der con­trol. They hope to do it with what of­fi­cials say are un­prece­dented se­cu­rity mea­sures.

“We’ve never seen a sit­u­a­tion like this. It’s very unique. It’s a very dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal dy­namic where free speech … at Berke­ley has be­come the oc­ca­sion for the right and left to con­front each other,” Christ said Wed­nes­day. “I be­lieve very strongly in Ben Shapiro’s right to speak on cam­pus. I don’t agree with Ben Shapiro, in fact I pro­foundly dis­agree with him. But I be­lieve he was le­git­i­mately in­vited by a stu­dent group and that he has the right to speak. It’s a re­ally trou­bling sit­u­a­tion.”

City and cam­pus of­fi­cials are tak­ing height­ened steps to pre­vent the sort of chaos that de­scended on cam­pus when Yiannopou­los tried to speak in Fe­bru­ary.

Po­lice of­fi­cers and phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers will be set up in a roughly half-mile-long perime­ter around six cam­pus build­ings Thurs­day af­ter­noon, cut­ting off ac­cess to Sproul Plaza, the site of Mario Savio’s fa­mous 1964 ad­dress dur­ing the free speech move­ment and a com­mon meet­ing ground for ac­tivists of all stripes.

In or­der to pass through the se­cu­rity perime­ter, peo­ple will have to show tick­ets for the speech. Those who do show up to protest will en­counter an “in­creased and highly vis­i­ble po­lice pres­ence,” Provost Paul Alivisatos said in a let­ter to the cam­pus last week.

If pro­test­ers spill into the city busi­ness district south of cam­pus, along Tele­graph Av­enue, they will en­counter the city’s po­lice force — which is now free to use pep­per spray on in­di­vid­ual pro­test­ers they deem are com­mit­ting acts of vi­o­lence.

Po­lice try to adapt to keep the peace

Berke­ley po­lice have come un­der crit­i­cism for not do­ing enough to break up the vi­o­lence that has marred past protests.

Berke­ley Po­lice Chief An­drew Green­wood suc­cess­fully pitched the City Coun­cil on Tues­day to ad­just a 1997 ban on the use of pep­per spray as a crowd-con­trol tech­nique.

Green­wood ar­gued that po­lice needed an­other tool — be­sides ba­tons and tear gas — to deal with the vi­o­lence that has come with the new wave of protests.

Coun­cil­woman Linda Maio, who voted for the mea­sure, agreed, cit­ing the prospects of large protests if Yiannopou­los and Ban­non come to cam­pus in the com­ing weeks.

“This is a new phe­nom­e­non that is evolv­ing, and we re­ally don’t know what to ex­pect,” she said of the protests over the last few months.

On Wed­nes­day, the city also an­nounced it was ban­ning a wide range of weapons in­clud­ing bricks, mace and dy­na­mite in a squaremile area cen­tered around UC Berke­ley’s cam­pus.

Since the elec­tion, Berke­ley res­i­dents have seen months of clashes be­tween ac­tivists on the left who em­ploy black-bloc mil­i­tant tac­tics and once-ob­scure far­right or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the Proud Boys and the Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Alt-Knights.

The skir­mishes have re­sulted in thou­sands of dol­lars of prop­erty dam­age in Berke­ley and a hand­ful of crim­i­nal charges.

The sit­u­a­tion at Berke­ley on Thurs­day will be a far cry from Shapiro’s visit to cam­pus in April 2016.

A con­ser­va­tive — and crit­i­cal — voice

Shapiro was met with lit­tle, if any, con­tro­versy then. The web­site he ed­its, the Daily Wire, wrote at the time that “the au­di­ence at Berke­ley was civil and po­lite, per­haps more so than any other univer­sity Shapiro has vis­ited in the last few weeks.”

The month be­fore that speech, Shapiro re­signed from the Ban­non-led Bre­it­bart News af­ter a col­league of his ac­cused then-Trump cam­paign man­ager Corey Le­wandowski of as­sault­ing her.

“Steve Ban­non is a bully, and has sold out An­drew [Bre­it­bart]’s mis­sion in or­der to back an­other bully, Don­ald Trump; he has shaped the com­pany into Trump’s per­sonal Pravda,” Shapiro wrote in a state­ment at the time.

Dur­ing the elec­tion, his lash­ing cri­tiques of Trump made him one of the more prom­i­nent op­po­nents of the then-Repub­li­can nom­i­nee in the con­ser­va­tive move­ment.

This op­po­si­tion to can­di­date Trump also made him the tar­get of anti-Semitic ha­rass­ment.

The Anti-Defama­tion League re­leased a re­port last fall de­tail­ing anti-Semitic ha­rass­ment of jour­nal­ists on Twit­ter dur­ing the first half of the 2016 elec­tion cy­cle. It found Shapiro to be the No. 1 tar­get.

Shapiro was frus­trated by a Berke­ley de­ci­sion ear­lier this month to shrink the num­ber of seats in the au­di­ence for his ad­dress.

Fit­ting in with a broader cri­tique he’s of­fered in his writ­ing, Shapiro also ridiculed the idea that any­one would need to seek coun­sel­ing be­cause he was speak­ing.

“As far as them en­sur­ing that I have a venue try­ing to make sure that it’s se­cure, I’m not sure all of what they’re do­ing makes sense, but I’m ap­pre­cia­tive that they’re at least try­ing,” Shapiro said.

“It’s very easy to get kids riled up by do­ing the shtick Yiannopou­los does, but that’s not my game and it’s al­ways why the com­par­isons are weird for me.”

It is un­clear what level of protests will greet Shaprio.

Or­ga­niz­ers with the group Re­fuseFacism.org were busy on cam­pus Wed­nes­day hand­ing out fliers pro­mot­ing a demon­stra­tion against Shapiro set for Thurs­day evening.

At Tues­day’s packed City Coun­cil meet­ing, Raphael Kadaris, an or­ga­nizer with the group, drew loud ap­plause from the au­di­ence when he said the coun­cil mem­bers were act­ing as “col­lab­o­ra­tors” with what he claims is a grow­ing fas­cist move­ment in the na­tion for con­sid­er­ing al­low­ing the po­lice use of pep­per spray.

“Th­ese peo­ple don’t care about free speech,” he said, re­fer­ring to the con­ser­va­tive speak­ers com­ing to cam­pus. “They are us­ing free speech as a pre­text to get a foothold, to nor­mal­ize fas­cism on th­ese col­lege cam­puses and to re­cruit a new gen­er­a­tion of fas­cist youth into their move­ment.”

Christ said Wed­nes­day the chal­lenge is to pro­tect free speech in this charged en­vi­ron­ment.

“I think we’re in an area which presents both chal­lenges to the law and chal­lenges to univer­sity pol­icy when a speaker oc­ca­sions the univer­sity to first of all spend ex­traor­di­nary amounts of money and take ex­traor­di­nary mea­sures that are quite dis­rup­tive to the univer­sity’s main busi­ness in or­der to pro­tect the right of free speech.

David Bu­tow For The Times

BERKE­LEY PO­LICE can now use pep­per spray on pro­test­ers they deem vi­o­lent af­ter the City Coun­cil lifted a 20-year-old ban this week.

Joshua Blan­chard Getty Im­ages for Politi­con

BEN SHAPIRO ridiculed Berke­ley’s of­fer of coun­sel­ing for any­one stressed by his cam­pus ap­pear­ance.

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