UC Berkeley is not sure exactly who snatched up the 1,000 tickets available for conservative author Ben Shapiro’s speech at Zellerbach Hall tonight, but they are putting in place significant security measures in anticipation of possible protests and violence.
“They sold out incredibly quickly,” Cal spokesman Dan Mogulof said at a noon press briefing, speaking about the tickets. “We don’t know who’s coming. That has informed security steps that we’re taking, given it’s uncertain what the audience composition is going to be.” UC Police Chief Margo Bennett also participated in the briefing.
Also unknown is who might turn up outside the auditorium to protest the appearance of Shapiro, 33, who is not as incendiary as far-right icon Milo Yiannopoulos — whose presence at Cal in February prompted violence and vandalism — but who nevertheless has drawn criticism for his negative comments about Islam and transgender rights.
Among the security measures being taken, Bennett said, is the deployment of officers from all 10 UC campuses, and collaboration with “county partners.” She declined to discuss the tactics they will use, although the university has said it will establish a security perimeter around six buildings, and anyone without a ticket will be prohibited from entering the zone. By Thursday afternoon many concrete barriers were already in place, and there were clusters of police officers around the campus.
A long list of items, including backpacks and bags, plastic bottles, helmets and batteries will be banned inside the security area, and there will be multiple checkpoints where police will search attendees for the prohibited objects.
The security arrangements could cost the university hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to Mogulof. Similar measures, taken when conservative commentator Ann Coulter was expected to come to campus in April, cost $600,000, he said at the briefing. Coulter never showed up, but related protests occurred elsewhere in the city, and Cal lined the campus with UCPD officers nonetheless, causing some students to complain that the campus felt like a police state.
Berkeley Police have the okay to use pepper spray on protesters who are violent, following a special City Council vote earlier this week. They said they would not use it for crowd control or on anyone who is passively resisting police, however.
The student group that invited Shapiro, the Berkeley College Republicans, is responsible for an estimated $9,000 for security inside the venue. That group’s sponsors, Young America’s Foundation, said it will cover that fee. YAF spokesman Spencer Brown told reporters later Thursday that he believes UC Berkeley can only blame itself for the extensive security needed tonight.
‘That’s an environment the university created and it’s up to them to allow free speech to go forward,” he said. “The complaints should be directed at the university for not enforcing the rule of law in the past.”
At the press briefing, Raphael Kadaris, from the communist organization Refuse Fascism, said his group is planning a peaceful “speak-out” on Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way Thursday evening.
“How do you justify, in the name of free speech, closing off Sproul Plaza, the actual birth place of free speech, to protect a white supremacist fascist speaker like Ben Shapiro?” Kadaris asked.
The city of Berkeley has closed some streets around campus to traffic, and buses are on detour, in case protests spill into the streets.
Mogulof said the university does not “relish” going to these lengths, but that the administration is doing what is needed to protect the safety of the campus community.
“We regret that the current context we’re living in here on this campus and across this country requires these sorts of preparations,” he said.