Campus & community, Campus news

Statement reaffirming campus’s commitment to free speech

Sather Gate
UC Berkeley's Sather Gate (Photo by Peg Skorpinski)

The following is a statement from UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof:

The afternoon of Feb. 19 began like any other on the UC Berkeley campus. Spread across Sproul Plaza were dozens of tables where many of the university’s 1000-plus student groups, representing a full array of beliefs, interests, and ideologies, engaged in advocacy and outreach, all of them equally supported, respected and welcome by the campus administration.

Shortly after 3 p.m., an individual who was a member of the public passed through this open marketplace of ideas and got into an altercation with a representative of the Leadership Institute, a program that partners with the conservative organization, Turning Point USA. Neither the assailant nor the Turning Point USA representative has an affiliation with the university. A video of the encounter showed the individual assaulted the Leadership Institute representative and then fled the campus.

None of this is disputed, but what followed, in terms of the campus’s ensuing words and deeds, as well as the actions of the University of California Police Department, has been willfully distorted and inaccurately reported.

This is what occurred:

Immediately after the incident, this message was sent to campus by UCPD:

Wednesday February 20, 2019, 1:52 PM
University of California Police Department, Berkeley
Community: UCPD asks the Public’s Help to Identify Battery Suspect

On February 19th, 2019 at 3:29pm UCPD received a report of a disturbance on Upper Sproul Plaza. A witness (UC student) reported to UCPD Officers that two males had just been fighting.

UCPD Officers found an injured male on the Plaza who reported he had been assaulted.  The victim reported he had been “tabling” for the group Turning Point when two males approached the table. When a verbal altercation started, the victim began filming the interaction with his phone.

A physical confrontation ensued when one of the two men slapped the phone out of the victim’s hand.  The suspect then knocked over the table the victim was at and the two men struggled over the phone. During the incident, the suspect punched the victim several times causing injury to the victim’s eye and nose.

The suspect left the area before police arrived.  UCPD is investigating this case and asks that anyone who has information about this matter or the pictured suspect to call 510-642-6760

This statement from the campus administration was then released to media outlets across the country:

UC Berkeley strongly condemns violence and harassment of any sort, for any reason. That sort of behavior is reprehensible and intolerable. We have, in recent years, spent millions of dollars to ensure that students from across the ideological/political spectrum can safely and successfully promote and discuss their beliefs. Our commitment to freedom of expression and belief is unwavering. At this point we have no information indicating that the perpetrators are affiliated with the university. If it is determined that students were involved we will not hesitate to impose serious consequences as per our student conduct process and, if warranted, the criminal justice system. The same holds true should the evidence suggest a member of the public was involved.  Yesterday, a message was sent by our police force to the campus community with a picture of the suspect, and a request that anyone with information about the incident come forward and report what they know in support of our police department’s ongoing investigation. We intend to identify and bring the perpetrators to justice. 

The next day, the Chancellor sent this message to the entire campus:

To the Berkeley Campus Community,

Yesterday UCPD sent out a notice and request for information related to a reprehensible incident that occurred on Sproul Plaza earlier this week. According to the police, an unknown, unidentified assailant attacked an individual engaged in political advocacy. Let there be no mistake, we strongly condemn violence and harassment of any sort, for any reason. That sort of behavior is intolerable and has no place here. Our commitment to freedom of expression and belief is unwavering. At this point we have no information indicating that the perpetrators are affiliated with the university, and I join our police department in urging anyone with information about the incident to come forward so we can apprehend and bring the perpetrator to justice.

I want to make sure everyone is aware of services available on campus if you are in any way affected by these incidents. Students can find resources online. Faculty and staff affiliated resources are also available online.

I also urge you to read and understand our carefully crafted Principles of Community and trust that they will be a valuable guide to how we should treat our fellow community members.


 Carol Christ


And, as around the country people jumped to the conclusion the assailant was a student, the members of Berkeley’s campus community responded immediately, leading to this message and update from UCPD:

Friday February 22, 2019, 1:51 PM
University of California Police Department, Berkeley

The University of California Police Department (UCPD) has identified a potential suspect in the violent crime that occurred on February 19th, 2019 on the Sproul Plaza (UCPD case #19-00455).  Based on current information available to the department, the suspect is not a student at, or affiliate of the University. This is still an active investigation and to support its efforts to apprehend the suspect, UCPD is encouraging anyone with information regarding this case to contact the UCPD Criminal Investigations Bureau at: (510) 642-0472 / 8AM–5PM / during business hours, except holidays; and (510) 642-6760 / All other times.

In certain quarters of the media world theatrical outrage was expressed regarding the university’s supposed failure to prevent the criminal act in question. We readily admit that this university—like every single town, city, county, and state in this country—is unable to prevent a lone bad actor who was neither employee or student from engaging in reprehensible behavior on a campus spanning 1,200 acres and a population of 50,000 people.

We don’t see a way to do that, but that doesn’t mean our police force and the administration don’t awaken every morning trying their best to deter criminal behavior and keep our campus safe. That objective is supported by imposing appropriate consequences when rules and laws are violated, and we have done everything in our power to make sure that happens in this instance, as in all others. We have an excellent police force, dedicated to one thing: the safety and well-being of the campus community.

In the days that followed, armchair experts with seemingly little understanding of how a police department and the office of the local district attorney operate, or of the investigative norms that are applied to all cases, not to mention the details of this particular case, immediately expressed disbelief and anger that the suspect had not been arrested. These critics stated without substantiation that the delay was somehow due to the imputed political beliefs of the campus administration. In so doing, they willfully impugned the integrity and independence of the excellent officers of the UCPD who seek to uphold the law regardless of who the perpetrators are, or what they happen to believe in.

On Friday, March 1, 2019, after completing what proved to be a complex investigation, the suspect was arrested and this message was released:

Suspect named in Sproul Plaza assault

Today, an Alameda County Superior Court Judge issued a warrant for the arrest of the suspect in the matter involving a February 19 assault on Sproul Plaza. Zachary Greenberg was arrested by the University of California Police Department (UCPD) on the warrant and booked into jail at 1 p.m. UCPD will formally present the case to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office for consideration of the filing of criminal charges. Once the matter is presented and reviewed by the District Attorney’s Office, additional information will be made available regarding a charging decision.

Finally, the absurd allegations regarding UC Berkeley’s support for free speech and all of its students, regardless of their perspectives, have no basis in fact. In the last year alone, this University spent more than $4 million to ensure that our conservative students could safely and successfully hold events on campus and invite speakers of their choice to these events.

Although we made every effort to inform the media, not a single outlet reported on the incontestable fact that these conservative student groups hosted a large number of conservative speakers, including Charlie Kirk (founder of Turning Point USA), Rick Santorum, Dennis Prager, Heather MacDonald, Candace Owens, Dave Rubin, Steve Simpson, Antonia Okafor and Allie Stuckey. Not a single disruption. No opposition. No protest. No coverage.

Our commitment to freedom of speech and belief is unwavering and no amount of incomplete, distorted news coverage is going to change that.