#BenAtBerkeley: Sights, sounds and students speaking up

A Berkeley student checks her phone in front of the police barricade

A Berkeley student checks her phone in front of the police barricade. (UC Berkeley photo by Khaled Sayed)

As conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro’s visit to Berkeley unfolded, videos and pictures flooded social media documenting the campus’s unprecedented preparations to ensure free speech would take place. The hashtag #BenAtBerkeley trended on Twitter and news coverage of the event trended on Facebook as people took to social media to weigh in on Shapiro’s appearance.

Berkeley News was on the scene to hear from students attending the talk as well as student protesters. Scroll down to read, see and hear what people were saying about the event on and off campus and click here to read our related coverage of the event, which moved forward without disruption.

Malachi Jackson (UC Berkeley photo by Anne Brice)

I think there are a lot of outside elements influencing folks’ perception of the campus, and making it seem like this really hostile place where you can’t be conservative, and that’s just not true. — Malachi Jackson, Berkeley student


About an hour before the event, peaceful protests began at Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way.

Many protesters and attendees were not affiliated with campus. Some Berkeley students, meanwhile, took advantage of unusual study settings.

Simran (left) and Jagdeep (UC Berkeley photo by Anne Brice)

It’s Berkeley. Everyone has the right to say and support what they believe in. I think people have the right to have the beliefs that they do, and until they are being aggressive about imposing them on other people, it’s free speech.  — Simran (left), Berkeley student, political science major


A perimeter was established around Zellerbach, and those attending the event passed through security checkpoints.

A long line formed for last-minute tickets.

Inside the event, an estimated 600 to 700 people listened to Shapiro speak for about 25 minutes, and then lined up to ask him questions for more than an hour. Calm prevailed inside the venue.

Trenton Hall (UC Berkeley photo by Anne Brice)

I disagree with most everything he says. I also want to hear what he has to say. If we don’t let a prominent figure on the right speak here then it’s a slippery slope that I don’t want to go down. — Trenton Hall, Berkeley student, legal studies major


Outside, a group of students staged a sit in in the MLK Student Union.


I believe in free speech, but I don’t believe in hate speech. I think there’s a clear division on what free speech and hate speech is because their speech is inciting violence. — Selena (pictured below), Berkeley student, geography major


Meanwhile, protesters on the street chanted loudly, but peacefully.

Outside the event, debates between protesters and supporters of Shapiro grew heated, but did not turn violent.

Some were happy to see a visible police presence, but others decried the show of force and expense required for the event.

Adriana Preciado and Selena (UC Berkeley photo by Anne Brice)

I worked hard for my money and to get here. And now my money is going toward this militant force that’s preventing me from doing what I pay and what I came here to do. You’re wasting a lot of people’s time and resources that could be used to benefit the students. — Adriana (left), Berkeley student, geography major


Shapiro’s talk ended without incident, and as protest outside wound down, police dispersed the crowds.