[Editor’s note: This article was first published on the UC Berkeley news site and has been reprinted with permission. The photograph is from Berkeleyside contributor Ted Friedman.]
By Gretchen Kell
The day after a scheduled appearance at UC Berkeley by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos erupted in violence and ended before it began, campus officials condemned the actions of agitators who invaded the campus and disrupted nearly 1,500 peaceful protesters. They also praised small groups of Berkeley students who organized themselves to begin cleaning up debris.
UCPD has launched an investigation of last night’s riotous actions, instigated by some 150 masked individuals with paramilitary tactics, including hurling Molotov cocktails, setting fires, throwing fireworks at police, pushing barricades into windows and damaging campus and city property.
“The violence was an attack on our fundamental values, which are maintaining and nurturing open inquiry and an inclusive, civil society — the bedrock of a genuinely democratic nation,” said Chancellor Nicholas Dirks. “We are now, and will remain in the future, completely committed to free speech not only as a vital component of our campus identity but as essential to our educational mission.”
He added, “We appreciate the efforts of our police and Student Affairs staff to protect the rights of both speaker and protesters and their commitment to public safety and minimizing injuries.”
Sgt. Sabrina Reich, UCPD public information officer, said campus police made one arrest last night of a non-student, on charges of failure to disperse. Officers made several dispersal announcements to the crowd assembled outside the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, where Yiannopoulos had been invited speak at 8 p.m. by the Berkeley College Republicans.
This morning, two Berkeley College Republicans were attacked while conducting an interview in front of Sproul Hall by two men not affiliated with the campus. The men were arrested by UCPD, which is investigating the incident and did not yet have more details.
UCPD is compiling video from Wednesday’s violence and will be reviewing it to try to identify suspects, Reich added. She encouraged anyone with information or who may have been a victim to contact police at (510) 642-6760.
While police are aware that while some members of the crowd that had gathered outside the student union on Wednesday were hurt, Reich said, “no one has come forward and made a police report regarding being assaulted or injured.” UCPD rescued multiple individuals in the crowd who were being attacked, trapped or injured.
An early estimate of campus damage is around $100,000, according to campus officials, and includes fixing broken windows at the MLK Student Union, replacing a generator that caught fire and was destroyed, sand-blasting paint off the concrete steps of the student union, cleaning up graffiti and possibly replacing some pavers and trees on Sproul Plaza. One tree on the plaza was badly singed by fire.
The city of Berkeley’s Downtown Business Association is reporting damage to more than 10 businesses including several banks, a Starbucks, a TargetExpress and Sprint and T-Mobile stores.
Already last night, an ad hoc group of UC Berkeley students who organized through social media and word of mouth decided to start picking up the broken pieces of their campus with brooms and paper bags, and they returned this morning around 5 a.m. to continue working.
Among them was William Morrow, president of the Associated Students of the University of California, who said the cleanup “was a real statement that the students of this campus care about this campus — about the buildings, the people, about maintaining a campus atmosphere that’s inviting to the rest of the world, so it can engage with it.”
“Last night was not reflective of that,” he continued. “What students were partaking in was a peaceful protest and anticipating a sharing of opinions and a dance party, but outside agitators infiltrated our community and didn’t treat it with the respect for our historic tradition of nonviolence.”
The campus also has received reports that Berkeley students took it upon themselves to try to protect Lower Sproul Plaza and privately owned shops on Bancroft Way from being vandalized.