Nearly a year after protesters last clashed on the streets of Berkeley, groups on the left and right returned Sunday ready for confrontation.
But most of the antifa and socialist demonstrators didn’t get a chance to meet the 30 or so on the right and far-right who showed up to Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.
Berkeley police, in a shift from tactics used last year, worked to prevent the sides from ever meeting. The hundreds of protesters on the left and far-left, who started with a “Stop the hate” rally among themselves at Ohlone Park at 11 a.m., marched to Civic Center Park but were met with lines of police in riot gear who prevented them from entering the grounds despite multiple attempts.
About 200 other people had made it into the park earlier in the day, sparking a number of small shouting and shoving matches there into the late afternoon.
Police have announced at least 20 arrests, and the vandalism of about 21 vehicles, most of which belonged to the city. The cars were smashed and, in one case, set aflame. Tires also were slashed. Three dumpsters were set on fire, said Officer Byron White, Berkeley police spokesman. White said police also used smoke canisters and “less-lethal” projectiles — commonly known as rubber bullets — after members of the crowd reportedly shot M-80s and homemade explosives at officers downtown. No injuries were reported to civilians or officers throughout the day. Police also towed a truck early Sunday that they said had banned weapons on it. Protesters at Ohlone said police had confiscated their “sound truck” with an amplification system and arrested the drivers.
Amber Cummings, a right-wing mainstay at many Berkeley protests, had called for a demonstration at Civic Center Park to say “no to Marxism.” She was joined by some local activists on the right, many live-streaming the protest, along with a few people associated with conspiracy-theory site Infowars, who wore helmets.
There weren’t as many high-profile right-wing activists as there were at some of the 2017 rallies in Berkeley. One of the better-known ones was Infowars reporter Owen Shroyer, who was flanked by a few men serving as his security, including Antonio Foreman, a prominent far-right activist who marched in Charlottesville. Foreman told Berkeleyside he hasn’t “done anything alt-right since then” and “disavows” those groups now.
Refuse Fascism and By Any Means Necessary were the two largest and most vocal groups on the far-left in Civic Center Park. They repeatedly got into scuffles with protesters on the right. Police often jumped into the middle of those fights, at one point shoving protesters away from the fountain in the park, which demonstrators had been standing on and trying to push each other off of. Those inside the park seemed unaware that a large contingent of demonstrators was outside the park and trying to get in.
By 3 p.m. the crowd at Civic Center had dwindled, and Cummings said the day had been a success in her eyes.
“We’ve had minimal violence today and that’s always our goal,” she said. “We said our side and they said theirs. They openly say they support communism.” At one point, she had an extended, measured debate with an anti-fascist protester, facilitated by the “Empathy Tent,” wherein they argued for and against Medicare and whether the LGBTQ community was more protected by or put in danger by communism.
One man, a University of Virginia professor, managed to come into the park from the Ohlone march. Walter Heinecke teaches in the School of Education and said it was his students who were attacked by white supremacists during the first night of the fatal “Unite the Right” event in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. Heinecke said he organized some of the counterprotests there, and happened to be in the Bay Area visiting family this weekend so he decided to join the rally.
“The fascists thought this was going to be their year,” Heinecke said. “We’ve denied them that in Berkeley, Charlottesville, San Francisco and Boston. I hope America wakes up and realizes there’s no two sides here. It’s about stopping the metastasization of a cancer unleashed by the Trump regime.”
Anti-fascists thwarted from confronting the far-right
For about three hours, a large crowd of anti-fascist activists marched through downtown Berkeley trying to get to Civic Center Park to confront those at the “No to Marxism” march. Led by a contingent of people dressed all in black with their faces concealed with bandanas and scarves, they chanted various things throughout the day, including “no ban, no wall, no USA at all.”
Berkeley police prevented the marchers from getting to the park. Police had set up concrete barriers at certain intersections and formed police lines any time the marchers got near the park. There were several tense stand-offs between officers who had lined up across a street and the protesters who faced them just a few feet away. The marchers baited the cops, who stayed expressionless even though they were accused of siding with Nazis. “You came here dressed for fucking battle. We came here to protect your kids,” one protester yelled.
Around 1:30 p.m., just as some anti-fascist protesters were carrying a section of chain-link fence down Center Street while others pushed some garbage cans toward the park, Berkeley police launched smoke canisters and shot off rubber bullets toward the crowd, prompting them to crouch and then scatter. Berkeley police said the protesters had launched fireworks at them first.
The leaders of the march, which at its peak may have reached 1,000, seemed to grow increasingly frustrated as police repeatedly stopped them from getting to the park. They were trying to keep from being “kettled,” or trapped, between a concrete barricade and a police line. That meant they walked back and forth along University Avenue, Shattuck Avenue, MLK Jr. Way and Milvia Street, with short trips down Center and Addison streets and Kittredge. “Let’s keep walking in circles,” one masked protester said, in frustration.
Finally, close to 2 p.m., about two and a half hours after they started, the bulk of the marchers headed back to Ohlone Park. Many people went home, but a few hundred went to the west end of the park to hold a “solidarity rally.”
The entire march stopped completely a few times so people could strategize. “We keep running into more police than we can take on head to head,” said one protester. “We’re not defending shit,” said one man. “We take the right [on] now or we go home,” said another.
Not all the marchers were hidden behind black masks. Nancy Abdul-Shakur of Oakland, brought her 7-year-old son Zaire to the march. She said she had not come to be violent, but to protest and resist the racist policies of the Trump administration and those who support those policies. Her son has already been to a number of protests, she said.
“Our job as parents is to remind [our children] of the fragility of the country and to remind [them] of the power of people coming together and speaking out against a fascist regime.”
As of nearly 6:10 p.m., police said there had been 20 arrests, but not all the names had been released. Police identified the arrested individuals as Blake Griffith, 29, of Oakland on suspicion of vandalism; Thomas Parker, 22, of Berkeley and Caitlin Boyle, 27, of Oakland were arrested for working with others to commit a crime; Maria Lewis, 29, of Emeryville and David Siegfried Chou, 26, of Santa Cruz were arrested on suspicion of possession of a banned weapon and working with others to commit a crime; Kristin Edith Koster, 50, of Berkeley was arrested on suspicion of possession of a dangerous weapon; and Freddy Martinez, 31, of Berkeley was arrested on suspicion of battery.
Most were arrested on suspicion of possession of a banned weapon: Jason Wallach, 49, of Oakland; Kate Brenner, 69, of Oakland; Ericka Sokolower-Shain, 28, of Berkeley; Sarena Lynette Perez, 39, of Oakland; Javier Cruz-O’Connell, 22, of Berkeley; Jamie Louise Hill, 30, of Emeryville; and Bella Podolsky, 27, of San Francisco. Andres Gonzalez, 35, of Oakland was arrested on five counts of carrying a banned weapon, police said.
Police said their focus was “separation of rival groups, confiscating weapons and arresting those carrying weapons in prohibited areas.” Officers said they confiscated “dozens of weapons.”
In a Nixle alert shortly after 6 p.m., BPD said, “Even though there were many hundreds of people, many of whom came armed and hostile, there were no significant injuries to anyone in the public or to City staff. The lack of injuries is fortunate given that extremists threw explosives at Berkeley Police and Alameda County Sheriff’s Office mutual aid officers. Berkeley Fire treated and released three members of the public for minor injuries.”
Officers from the California Highway Patrol and the Oakland, Hayward, San Leandro and Emeryville police departments were also part of the day’s law enforcement response.
Police have asked anyone with information about criminal activity to report it.
This story was updated shortly after 6 p.m. with additional information from BPD.