Op-ed: BAMN’s protest plans calculated to cause violence

I am happy to see that a rising tide of idealism is causing non-violent demonstrations for justice across the country.

I am not happy to see that the one of the main groups planning our demonstrations in Berkeley is BAMN (By Any Means Necessary), which believes in violence.

The news has even made the New York Times, which reported: “At Sproul Plaza, students took to megaphones to urge for peaceful demonstrations. But Yvette Felarca, 44, an organizer from By Any Means Necessary, one of the groups behind the protests, said she thought ‘militant’ actions were justified if necessary. ‘Riots are the voice of the unheard,’ said Ms. Felarca….”

BAMN seems to have planned recent demonstrations in a way that is calculated to cause violence.

They called the first of this series of demonstrations to begin on Saturday, December 6 at 5 p.m., after sunset. Anyone who is familiar with local protests knows that they attract a “black bloc” of violent demonstrators, who obviously are more able to get away with violence after dark. Because this was a Saturday, people could just as easily have demonstrated during the day, when violence is less likely.

As expected, a small minority of the demonstrators were violent. They broke the windows of some businesses, including Trader Joe’s, Radio Shack and Wells Fargo Bank.

Provoked by this looting and violence, the Berkeley police overreacted, using tear gas and using excessive force against some innocent protesters. They jabbed demonstrators with batons, forcing them to retreat so quickly that one woman fell over and was being trampled by other demonstrators. When an intern minister at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco slowed her retreat to help this fallen demonstrator, the police beat her on the head, so blood ran down her neck and body.

The next day, Mayor Bates met with the city manager. As a result of this meeting, the city manager instructed the police not to use tear gas at future demonstrations unless absolutely necessary. On subsequent evenings, Berkeley police kept their distance from demonstrators and did not use tear gas or batons.

BAMN responded to the excessive police force on their Facebook page by saying that a “peaceful demonstration” was met with a “police riot” and by calling on protesters to disrupt the next city council meeting to demand the resignation of Mayor Bates. About 1,000 people, most of whom seemed to be students, responded on Facebook to say that they would come. Because of the threatened disruption, Mayor Bates postponed this city council meeting.

BAMN’s claim that this was a peaceful demonstration is untrue. Many videos and eyewitness accounts show that a small minority of violent demonstrators were breaking windows and looting stores. Police were overreacting to this violence and looting.

BAMN members are politically savvy enough to know that we have a city manager form of government, so the mayor does not directly control the police. They must have read the news and heard that Mayor Bates talked to the city manager the next day, convincing the city manager to instruct the police not to use tear gas or excessive force against demonstrators.

BAMN was there at subsequent demonstrations, and they saw that the Berkeley police did not use excessive force. There were some clashes with California Highway Patrol when demonstrators blocked freeways, but there were no violent clashes with Berkeley police.

If BAMN knew that Mayor Bates was not responsible for police behavior during the first day’s demonstration and knew that he acted to stop the police from using excessive force in subsequent demonstrations, why did BAMN continue to blame the mayor for the police’s behavior and try to pack the city council meeting with demonstrators demanding the mayor’s resignation?

This is a familiar tactic to anyone who understands violent extremist organizations. They begin with an issue that draws a large number of supporters, in this case, equal justice for people of all races. Then they provoke violence in order to escalate the situation, hoping to radicalize these supporters and to draw more attention to their cause.

Scheduling the first protest at night attracted violent demonstrators, provoking the police to overreact.

Demanding Bates’ resignation and calling for disruption of the council meeting was clearly an attempt to escalate this tense situation. The disruption obviously would have caused conflict and could have caused more violence. Fortunately, Mayor Bates cancelled the meeting and avoided this escalation.

Scheduling the first protest at night might have been an oversight. BAMN might not have thought about avoiding violence by demonstrating during the daytime.

The call to disrupt the council meeting clearly was a deliberate attempt to escalate the situation, potentially provoking violence. BAMN blamed the mayor for police violence and demanded his resignation, even though they must have known that he was not responsible for the police’s actions at the first demonstration and that he stopped the police from overreacting at subsequent demonstrations.

On Wednesday, December 7, BAMN gave us a glimpse of what the December 6 council meeting would have been like if it had been held. Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, was speaking in Wheeler auditorium, and a group of 50 to 100 demonstrators led by organizers of BAMN took over the stage after several minutes of pushing people out of their way. Thiel fled from the meeting, and the demonstrators blocked any possibility of discussion by chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “No Police State.”

They pushed people around and shut down this meeting with 50 to 100 demonstrators. Imagine what they would have done with the 1,000 people who signed up on their Facebook page to come to the city council meeting.

BAMN will probably try to disrupt the next council meeting, and we will be better prepared to deal with them if we remember a few things.

Remember that BAMN does not believe in free speech or in open public discussion of the issues. They have a history of shouting down anyone who disagrees with them and of shutting down discussion by chanting slogans.

Remember that BAMN is willing to lie to manipulate people into potentially violent situations, as they lied about Mayor Bates being responsible for police behavior to try to disrupt the council meeting.

Remember that BAMN can attract something like 1,000 people to meetings or demonstrations through its Facebook page, many of them naive, idealistic students who know so little about city government that they believed that Mayor Bates should resign because he caused the “police riot.”

Remember that BAMN believes in violence. Martin Luther King said “Riots are the voice of the unheard” at a time when riots were happening spontaneously across the country, and he was trying to explain those riots while he himself was promoting non-violence. BAMN quotes “Riots are the voice of the unheard” to justify the promotion of violence.

Remember that BAMN does not care if innocent people are hurt because of its tactics. It pursues its goals by any means necessary.

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Dianne Emmett learned during the 1960s that violent extremists can destroy a progressive movement. She has lived in Berkeley since the 1970s and she works as an editor and writer.