Berke­ley closes streets for con­ser­va­tive talk

Manteca Bulletin - - Local/State -

BERKE­LEY (AP) — Po­lice in riot gear ringed the cam­pus of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley and sur­round­ing streets Thurs­day, help­ing to keep the peace as hun­dreds of protesters gath­ered out­side a venue where a con­ser­va­tive was speak­ing at the fa­mously lib­eral univer­sity.

A hand­ful of peo­ple chanted “shame, shame, shame” at those headed into the speech by for­mer Bre­it­bart ed­i­tor Ben Shapiro. Oth­ers held signs protest­ing the univer­sity’s de­ci­sion to host him, while dozens of oth­ers later moved in chant­ing against white supremacy, fas­cism and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Only six ar­rests were re­ported. Peo­ple were taken into cus­tody for bat­tery on a po­lice of­fi­cer and car­ry­ing a banned weapon.

Streets were closed and con­crete bar­ri­ers were erected in what many saw as the latest po­lar­iz­ing event to raise con­cerns about violence in the city.

Xo­chitl John­son, an or­ga­nizer with Refuse Fas­cism, a group protest­ing Shapiro’s speech, at­tacked the univer­sity for de­ploy­ing po­lice for what she said was the cre­ation of a safe space for fas­cists. She said it was wrong for the school to shut down the cam­pus to let him speak.

Au­thor­i­ties sealed off Sproul Plaza — the cen­tral hub of the cam­pus — and cre­ated a perime­ter around sev­eral build­ings, in­clud­ing the site where Shapiro was set to speak to about 1,000 peo­ple who re­ceived free tickets.

Shapiro was in­vited to speak by cam­pus Repub­li­cans, who say the lib­eral univer­sity sti­fles the voice of con­ser­va­tive speak­ers.

Nick Han­d­ley, 18, a high school se­nior from Modesto, about 85 miles east of Berke­ley, was among those lined up to see Shapiro. He said he tried to get other peo­ple to come with him, but they were afraid about po­ten­tial violence.

“It re­ally is sad,” he said, re­fer­ring to the heavy po­lice pres­ence. “This is tax­payer money. It’s ter­ri­ble they have to have this be­cause a speaker wants to share his views.”

UC Berke­ley spokesman Dan Mogulof es­ti­mated se­cu­rity costs could hit $600,000 for the event. He said the school was com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing the safety of stu­dents and peo­ple at­tend­ing the event, and to mak­ing it suc­cess­ful.

The city and cam­pus have become a flash­point this year for the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions, draw­ing ex­trem­ist groups from the left and right.

“We can’t turn a blind eye to re­al­ity and to what we’ve learned from re­cent events on this cam­pus and in this city and around the coun­try,” Mogulof said.

Po­lice and UC Berke­ley of­fi­cials were crit­i­cized last Fe­bru­ary for giv­ing de­mon­stra­tors wide lat­i­tude and stand­ing aside as an­ar­chists hurled Molo­tov cock­tails at of­fi­cers and caused $100,000 worth of dam­age dur­ing a planned speech by right-wing provo­ca­teur Milo Yiannopou­los. The event was can­celed.

A list of banned items Thurs­day in­cluded shields, masks, ban­danas, poles and torches, and for the first time in two decades, the city coun­cil au­tho­rized city of­fi­cers to use pep­per spray to con­trol violence.

Four po­lit­i­cal demon­stra­tions have turned vi­o­lent in Berke­ley since Fe­bru­ary, prompt­ing of­fi­cers to come up with new strate­gies to con­trol rowdy and some­times dan­ger­ous crowds.

Thurs­day’s event was be­ing seen as a test run for later in the month, when Yiannopou­los plans to re­turn to cam­pus for what he is call­ing a “Free Speech Week” on cam­pus fea­tur­ing con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tor Ann Coul­ter and Steve Ban­non, ex­chief strate­gist for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump who has re­turned to Bre­it­bart News. Cam­pus of­fi­cials say that event is not yet con­firmed.

For his part, Shapiro opened his speech by de­nounc­ing white supremacy and small-mind­ed­ness. He urged peo­ple to sit and down and talk to peo­ple who have dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal views than them rather than yelling at those who are not like them.

“Get to know peo­ple, get to know their views. Dis­cuss, de­bate,” Shapiro said. “That is what Amer­ica is all about.”

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