Berke­ley braces for visit by right-wing speaker

Manteca Bulletin - - Local - Shapiro

BERKE­LEY (AP) — The Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley will seal off large parts of its cam­pus like a fortress with a closed perime­ter and a “very large” vis­i­ble po­lice pres­ence to­day, when the birth­place of Amer­ica’s free speech move­ment faces its next po­ten­tial clashes.

City and cam­pus au­thor­i­ties an­tic­i­pate demon­stra­tions at a speech by con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tor Ben Shapiro, a for­mer Bre­it­bart edi­tor, and are pre­par­ing for pos­si­ble vi­o­lence with a va­ri­ety of new strate­gies and tight­ened se­cu­rity.

For the first time in two decades, of­fi­cers will be armed with pep­per spray af­ter the city coun­cil mod­i­fied a 1997 ban at an emer­gency meet­ing this week.

The tac­tics to boost se­cu­rity are the lat­est in­di­ca­tion of grow­ing frus­tra­tions in Berke­ley and other lib­eral cities that have be­come tar­gets of vi­o­lent po­lit­i­cal protests since the elec­tion of President Don­ald Trump and bat­tle­grounds for ex­trem­ist groups that sup­port and op­pose him.

“We have seen ex­trem­ists on the left and right in our city,” said Berke­ley Mayor Jesse Ar­reguin, a Demo­crat who backed the po­lice re­quest to use pep­per spray. “We need to make sure vi­o­lence is not al­lowed.”

Shapiro’s event, or­ga­nized by cam­pus Repub­li­cans, is be­ing watched as a warm-up act for later this month when provoca­tive, right-wing speaker Milo Yiannopou­los says he plans to hold a “Free Speech Week” on Berke­ley’s cam­pus with a 20-per­son lineup that in­cludes Ann Coul­ter and Stephen Ban­non, Trump’s ex-chief strate­gist and head of Bre­it­bart News. Cam­pus of­fi­cials say the event is not yet con­firmed.

It will be Yiannopou­los’ sec­ond at­tempt to speak at Berke­ley this year, af­ter an event in Fe­bru­ary was abruptly can­celed when masked, hooded left-wing an­ar­chists dressed in black ri­oted out­side the event — set­ting fires and smash­ing win­dows on cam­pus and on nearby city streets.

Po­lice and UC Berke­ley of­fi­cials were crit­i­cized at the time for giv­ing de­mon­stra­tors wide lat­i­tude and stand­ing aside as the masked an­ar­chists hurled Molo­tov cock­tails at of­fi­cers and caused $100,000 worth of dam­age.

Vi­o­lence es­ca­lated at sub­se­quent off-cam­pus protests and au­thor­i­ties say they have learned hard lessons as they strug­gle to bal­ance free speech rights with pre­vent­ing vi­o­lence.

UC Berke­ley’s Provost Paul Alivisatos sent a re­cent cam­pus-wide mes­sage de­tail­ing se­cu­rity plans, say­ing no one wear­ing masks or car­ry­ing weapons of any sort will be al­lowed on cam­pus.

Po­lice will block off the build­ing where Shapiro is sched­uled to speak and sev­eral other build­ings hours be­fore the event starts. Any­one en­ter­ing the se­cure zone to pick up tick­ets must pres- ent a photo I.D. Nearby park­ing lots will be closed.

Berke­ley po­lice chief An­drew Green­wood said po­lice will make “very strong, rapid ar­rests” Thurs­day night if any protesters have weapons or wear masks.

The se­cu­rity mea­sures in­clude clos­ing Sproul Plaza, the cam­pus’ cen­tral hub that was the epi­cen­ter of the 1960s Free Speech Move­ment and site of its most his­toric protests, sit-ins and speeches.

“Things have changed,” UC Berke­ley spokesman Dan Mogulof said. “We’re a quan­tum leap away from the sort of ar­range­ments we needed to make in the past for events that have the po­ten­tial to at­tract strong po­lit­i­cal sup­port or op­po­si­tion.”

In con­trast, a sim­i­lar event fea­tur­ing Ben Shapiro on cam­pus in 2016 be­fore President Don­ald Trump was elected and also hosted by Berke­ley Col­lege Repub­li­cans had “ba­sic se­cu­rity.” It went off peace­fully and made no ma­jor head­lines.

For Thurs­day’s event, Mogulof said au­thor­i­ties are de­ploy­ing “very, very large num­bers of po­lice of­fi­cers” from cam­pus, city and re­gional law en­force­ment agen­cies.

Berke­ley’s frus­tra­tions are shared by of­fi­cials in other fa­mously lib­eral cities such as Seat­tle and Portland, Ore­gon where Trump sup­port­ers and left-wing protesters have re­peat­edly taken to the streets in sup­posed free speech demon­stra­tions that have re­sulted in vi­o­lence.

At a protest last week in Portland, po­lice said anti-fas­cist protesters threw smoke de­vices and other pro­jec­tiles at of­fi­cers try­ing to keep the peace be­tween pro- and an­tiTrump crowds. Seven peo­ple were ar­rested.

Black-clad protesters have been a men­ac­ing pres­ence at protests in the Pa­cific North­west since be­fore Trump was elected, of­ten clash­ing with po­lice at May Day marches, and they con­tinue to show up at the many demon­stra­tions.

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