As a still-proud alumnus of UC Berkeley, I believe that after last night UC Berkeley students have an important responsibility, whether they want it or not.
I marched through Sproul Plaza in celebration when former president Barack Obama was elected and on University Avenue in frustration when education budgets in California continued to be slashed. Protest has served a historic role on our campus and has shaped how people have seen our university for most of the past century. I’ve also seen firsthand the people who use the campus’s visible status as a tool for their own political motives, people with no connections to the universities benefiting from open campus policies to both protest peacefully, and riot violently, all under the guise of our institution. Last night, it was clear to me and many others familiar within Berkeley that the violent masked protesters represented that group and not the vast majority of students that see Berkeley as their home.
There is an anarchist credo that says “masks are not to conceal our identity but to reveal it.” I sincerely disagree. I believe that masks, in this case and in many others, are the tool of the coward, someone who seeks to avoid responsibility for their behavior and is fine allowing the consequences of violence and destruction to be distributed across a community with which they have no real allegiance or loyalty.
So I believe it is up to students of UC Berkeley to rise above the din and for individuals and student groups alike to make clear their stance on violence and destruction of property. Representatives of student government, political groups, greek life, co-ops, sports teams and other student groups should show what a democracy looks like and speak out on behalf of those they represent. Regardless of whether you participated in a peaceful protest or stayed home, the title of violent protester has been thrust upon you by the actions of a few. It is up to you to loudly reject it or silently accept it.
And for those students of UC Berkeley who do believe there is legitimacy to violence and destruction of property, you should also make your voices clear and show what portion of the student body you truly represent. We cannot ignore the fact there were likely students who participated in or advocated the violence that took place, and they should publicly stand by their actions.
Also, especially for those who have raised concerns about how police treat protesters, UCPD and Berkeley police should be acknowledged for their use of restraint and professionalism in the face of blatant aggression. This is in spite of being vastly outnumbered and having at least one officer assaulted.
Speaking as one Berkeley alumnus and on behalf of no one else, I denounce the destruction of both public and private property and the harm against people with whom you disagree. For me, there is no justification for attacking someone because of the hat on their head, or even if you truly believe there is hate in their heart. UC Berkeley should stand for higher learning and hearing the voices of everyone, not serve as an echo chamber for those who shout loudest. I learned the most in college from having my views challenged and being proven wrong more often than right. If we lose that, we lose what makes UC Berkeley the greatest public university in the country.
In that spirit, I am happy to hear from those who disagree, but ask you to do so publicly, with your mask off.
—Benjamin Driscoll is a UC Berkeley alumnus