Amid an apparently organized violent attack and destruction of property at UC Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, the UC Police Department (UCPD) determined it was necessary to evacuate controversial speaker Milo Yiannopoulos from campus and to cancel his scheduled 8 p.m. event. The Breitbart News editor had been invited by the Berkeley College Republicans.
At about 10 p.m., campus officials lifted the “shelter in place” order issued earlier in the evening and said Berkeley would be back to business as usual on Thursday. However, UCPD asked the community to be aware that protest activity was still occurring in the city of Berkeley and to avoid streets surrounding the campus.
The violence was instigated by a group of about 150 masked agitators who came onto campus and interrupted an otherwise non-violent protest.
The decision to cancel the event was made at about 6 p.m., and officers read several dispersal announcements to a crowd of more than 1,500 protesters who had gathered outside the student union, where Yiannopoulos was to speak. He immediately was escorted from the building and left campus.
Of paramount importance was the campus’s commitment to ensure the safety and security of those attending the event, the speaker, those who came to engage in lawful protest and members of the public and the Berkeley campus community.
Fires that were deliberately set, one outside the campus Amazon outlet; Molotov cocktails that caused generator-powered spotlights to catch fire; commercial-grade fireworks thrown at police officers; barricades pushed into windows and skirmishes within the crowd were among the evening’s violent acts.
The masked agitators came to campus eastbound on Bancroft Way, and fire damage and other destruction to the Stiles Hall construction site, where a new residence hall is planned, was reported. The group entered campus and immediately began throwing rocks at officers. In an effort to avoid injuries to innocent members of the surrounding crowd who might have been caught in the middle, police officers exercised restraint and did not respond with force.
Agitators also attacked some members of the crowd who were rescued by police. UCPD reported no major injuries and about a half dozen minor injuries. Mutual aid officers from the city of Oakland and from Alameda County arrived at Berkeley around 7:45 p.m. to assist UCPD and Berkeley city police.
No arrests had been made by UCPD as of 9:30 p.m.
Campus officials said they condemn in the strongest possible terms the violence and unlawful behavior that was on display and deeply regret that those tactics now overshadow the efforts of the majority to engage in legitimate and lawful protest against the performer’s presence at Berkeley and his perspectives.
UC Berkeley officials and UCPD went to extraordinary lengths to plan for this event, working closely with the Berkeley College Republicans and putting the appropriate resources in place to maintain security. Officials were in contact with other university campuses where Yiannopoulos had been asked to speak, and they paid close attention to lessons learned. Dozens of additional police officers were on duty for Wednesday’s scheduled event, and multiple methods of crowd control were in place. Ultimately, and unfortunately, however, it was impossible to maintain order given the level of threat, disruption and organized violence.
Campus officials added that they regret that the threats and unlawful actions of a few have interfered with the exercise of First Amendment rights on a campus that is proud of its history and legacy as the home of the Free Speech Movement.
In an earlier message to the Berkeley campus community, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks made it clear that while Yiannopoulos’ views, tactics and rhetoric are profoundly contrary to those of the campus, UC Berkeley is bound by the Constitution, the law and the university’s values and Principles of Community, which include the enabling of free expression across the full spectrum of opinion and perspective.