A rally in Civic Center Park on Saturday, being touted by some critics as perhaps the largest racist event ever seen in Berkeley, has prompted authorities to send a message of caution this week to local residents who plan to attend. And, just before 5 p.m. Friday, the city released a long list of potential weapons it says are banned in the park “in an effort to ensure the peaceful expression of free speech.” Those who don’t respect the ban could be ticketed or arrested.
On the list are metal pipes, baseball or softball bats, lengths of lumber or wood, wooden dowels, poles, bricks, rocks, glass bottles, pepper spray (OC spray), mace, knives or daggers, shields, axes, axe handles or hatchets, ice picks, razor blades, Tasers, eggs and “any other item that is generally considered an ‘implement of riot’ that can be used as a weapon.” It’s the first time, at least in recent memory, the city has announced special rules like this before a protest event.
In addition, “Signs and flags … must be held by hand, and may not be affixed to any pole or stick,” the city said. City spokesman Matthai Chakko said staff can impose these rules because the rallies are planned on public land, and because no one has applied for permits for them. A “Patriots Day” demonstration and “Antifa” counter-protest are expected to draw hundreds to Civic Center Park to rally for “free speech,” on the one side, and against fascism on the other. On March 4, the two groups clashed, leading to arrests and injuries.
Chakko said nearly all the items on the banned list are ones that came into play March 4. The city has declined to say much about what preparations it has taken to ensure that it’s ready for Saturday, but officials say they are. Chakko told Berkeleyside on Friday that the city’s main message to community members is about how to stay safe.
The city is advising peaceful protesters, as well as those who are documenting events, to separate themselves from any violence they see Saturday to avoid getting hurt and to allow police to intervene more efficiently. Said Chakko, “The people on March 4 came armed and they came armored. If you see people armed and armored, and you want to stay safe, separate yourself.”
He also cautioned anyone planning to come demonstrate to watch out for propaganda.
“It’s really important for people … to not get baited, to not get provoked into coming or responding based on what they might be hearing through rumors or social media or people they don’t know,” he said. “The motives behind why they want people to come may not be why a peaceful protester needs to come.”
No permits have been sought from the city by anyone planning to rally in Berkeley on Saturday, and Chakko said that is noteworthy.
“It’s something the public should be aware of when they’re evaluating an event,” he said. “Part of what permits do is indicate the focus … or interest in lawfulness of the organizers.”
Chakko said there will be “a lot of officers on the ground” Saturday, who will work to arrest any lawbreakers they see. But he said officers will take overall public safety into account as well. Should the immediate situation not allow for arrests, he said, police will pursue leads and investigations until arrests can be made. Following the March 4 protests, police twice asked for the public’s help to identify people they said broke laws that day. Ten people were arrested March 4, and investigators pursued other arrest warrants later.
“The goal of the Berkeley Police Department is to facilitate free speech for this event and make sure people are safe, in line with the community’s values,” he said. “That’s a challenge. And that’s something that Berkeley police do quite skillfully.”
Chakko noted that the March 4 rally was contained to Civic Center Park and did not result in any injuries or property damage outside the park. He said that was an impressive feat because it was a “significant and substantial event.”
Businesses in downtown Berkeley have taken various approaches to the planned rally. Wells Fargo bank on Shattuck Avenue, which suffered serious damage during the Feb. 1 Milo demonstration, will install plywood over its windows Saturday, according to a bank employee. The downtown Chase Bank branch, which also suffered damage, plans to close early, at noon, instead of 4 p.m. Starbucks on Center Street, which was looted Feb. 1, will stay open as usual, said an employee.
The city of Berkeley has recommended that businesses bring inside any objects that could be used as projectiles, and ensure security cameras are in working order, in case problems do arise.
Chakko said the city, as a matter of standard practice, coordinates with other law enforcement agencies “for a number of different reasons.” He and BPD spokesman Sgt. Andrew Frankel declined to say whether Berkeley plans to call in mutual aid from other law enforcement agencies, or has taken any steps tothat end. Frankel said the city has “resourced appropriately” in advance of Saturday’s event.
Frankel said BPD has reached out to various organizers for this weekend’s events, and Chakko said the city has met with business groups and merchants in preparation for Saturday. No street closures have been announced, but Chakko said the city is going to “plan for a number of different contingencies.” The downtown Berkeley farmers market has been canceled by organizers due to the rally in the park.
The city has not tallied how much the March 4 protest cost Berkeley, but Chakko said that number could be made available in the future.
Ultimately, he said, the city’s main goal for local residents and businesses is safety.
“We want to keep as many people safe as possible,” Chakko said.
Many local residents have said they are frustrated by the outside attention and wish rightwing activists could find another venue for their events.
“I really hope people just ignore them,” wrote one local resident. “They deserve no attention! If we ignore them, they can crawl back under their rocks and leave our town alone!”
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