Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s attempt to combat the rise of white nationalist and alt-right rallies in Berkeley has now become a statewide effort to tackle white supremacy.
Arreguín joined other East Bay and state-elected officials, including Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, to speak out against white nationalism in the community at a press conference Tuesday morning. The officials condemned an alt-right rally planned for Sunday at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park and urged Berkeley residents and counter-protesters to avoid the area.
“The alt-right groups need others to dignify their presence,” Skinner said. “If we stay away from their direct action, then we provide them no one to be violent against and we do not honor their very presence.”
The conference comes after Skinner introduced legislation Monday to strengthen California’s anti-hate crime laws. Skinner’s bill, SB 630, would modify the state’s current hate crime laws by protecting individuals who are harmed while acting in support or defense of protected groups, but are not part of a protected class themselves.
Skinner stated the impetus for the legislation was in part a result of the death of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman who was killed when a car drove into a crowd of counter protesters at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The driver of the vehicle has not been charged with a hate crime, because Heyer was not considered part of a protected class under current hate crime laws.
“The incident in Charlottesville … seems to indicate that there are technicalities in the laws that we could fix,” Skinner said.
Skinner also introduced resolution SJR 13, which would classify white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups as terrorists and allow them to be prosecuted as such, as well as resolution SR 55, which urges law enforcement to employ anti-gang laws in order to prevent potential illegal actions by these groups.
State Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León announced Monday that the California Senate will also be holding public hearings in order to respond to the growth of white supremacy in the state and to ensure that various institutions are equipped to respond to alt-right rallies in the future. Representatives from the University of California, California State University and California Highway Patrol will be asked to testify at the hearings on this issue.
According to Skinner, who will be holding the hearings as chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, the hearings will occur sometime in the fall.
A number of residents in attendance at the conference disagreed with Arreguín and other elected officials who urged citizens to stay away from the rally planned for Sunday.
Berkeley resident Micky Duxbury, who will be joining other people of faith at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley to march against the alt-right rally Sunday, said she believes Arreguín and Berkeley’s elected officials should show greater leadership in meeting with a variety of organizers, rather than encouraging citizens to avoid the rally.
“If they don’t want us to be right there because it’s too volatile then they should be providing more leadership to meet with all the organizations that are coming to create a truly alternative thing that tens of thousands of people can be marching in the streets,” Duxbury said. “Five days away, I don’t see that happening.”
Skinner stated that those residents who wish to counter-protest the alt-right groups should stay some distance away from Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.
“Let’s send a strong message that we are united as a community against hate,” Arreguín said during the press conference. “Safety is our number one priority as a city government. We will have an increased police presence during that day as well as other precautions … we want to avoid violence at all costs while ensuring that attendees can exercise their right to freedom of speech.”
Amber Cummings, an organizer of the rally planned for Sunday, entitled “No to Marxism in America,” appeared before the start of the press conference and spoke to the press, insisting that the rally was not a white nationalist event.
“I do not support white supremacy,” Cummings said to members of the press. “White supremacy is not allowed at my rally. We do not want racist people there.”
In response to questions of why Arreguín and the other elected officials at the conference were referring to the rally as a white nationalist rally, Arreguín stated during the conference that there had been indications through social media that known white nationalists would be planning to show up at the rally.
The elected officials at the press conference voiced their continued commitment to progressive values and encouraged the community to engage in peaceful resistance.
“While we stand together to reject the hateful worldview of those who demonstrated in Charlottesville and in Boston and who plan to come here to Berkeley this weekend, let us stand together united by love and a deep commitment to justice and nonviolence,” Lee said at the event. “Let us demonstrate our progressive Berkeley values in how we respond to this challenge.”