Groups from across the political spectrum gathered on Sproul Plaza and at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park on Thursday to protest the now-canceled Ann Coulter event.
Demonstrators gathered on Sproul Plaza and chanted phrases such as, “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!” UCPD set up barriers and congregated on Sproul Plaza, partnering with several neighboring law enforcement agencies to prevent potential violence at the protests.
Approximately 30 Berkeley Police Department officers were stationed at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.
As of 1 p.m., UCPD had made two protest-related arrests. One individual was arrested on suspicion of carrying a knife on campus, while the other was arrested and charged with wearing a mask and providing false identification to a police officer. BPD made two arrests in relation to the protests, according to BPD spokesperson Byron White. According to a BPD Nixle alert released about 9:11 p.m., five arrests were made in connection with the protests, including:
- Mark Wilder, 52, of Irving, on suspicion of carrying a concealed dagger
- An unidentified juvenile on suspicion of possession of a controlled substance
- An unidentified individual on suspicion of resisting arrest
- Donque Addison, 28, of Oakland, on suspicion of resisting arrest
- Stephen Hall, 48, of Oakland, on suspicion of attempting to incite a riot and violating probation
“Our plan is to facilitate peaceful expression of free speech,” said city spokesperson Matthai Chakko. “If there are any crimes that occur, we will be looking to arrest and do everything we can to get them prosecuted.”
The demonstrations on Sproul Plaza began subsiding about 12:45 p.m.
The protests began largely in reaction to the cancellation of Coulter’s speaking event at UC Berkeley. In March, Berkeley College Republicans and BridgeUSA invited Coulter to speak on campus toward the end of April. After discussions with the campus administration, however, the event was postponed to September because of active security threats.
After the campus announced the postponement, Coulter insisted that she would visit the campus Thursday, as originally planned. But Wednesday, Coulter announced that she would no longer be visiting the campus due to lack of support, and that her event was canceled.
UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Mayor Jesse Arreguín released a joint statement Thursday morning, stating that they will not endanger the Berkeley campus and community “by permitting an event to be held in a venue that (their) police force does not believe to be protectable.”
“Creating an environment that prevents violence is not censorship, rather it is protection of free speech,” the statement said. “Ann Coulter did not take up the University’s offer to have the event held at a time where we could ensure safety. To be clear, the decision to cancel the speech was that of Coulter, not the University.”
Many community groups who had planned on protesting at Coulter’s appearance Thursday decided to continue their demonstrations, even though the event was canceled.
Raphael Kadaris, a member of Refuse Fascism, addressed onlookers on Sproul Plaza with a megaphone.
“Anyone who cares about free speech should be worried there’s a fascist regime in the White House,” Kadaris said.
Several conservative groups gathered at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park to protest the cancellation of Coulter’s event.
“I am here to defend free speech,” said Lauren Southern, a conservative activist and writer. “Show Antifa it is not their land, and violence will not be tolerated.”
Individuals entering Sproul Plaza may be subject to search for weapons, banners and explosive devices, according to a sign posted on a pillar outside of Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union and a UCPD Nixle alert released about 1:52 p.m. The alert declared Sproul Plaza an “event area,” notifying the community that the area would have limited access.
Dajah Walker, a Berkeley High student, said she called her father to take her out of school for the day because she didn’t feel safe. Todd Walker, Dajah Walker’s father, said he was already on his way to pick up his daughter when she called him. He had heard about the protests on the news.
“This shouldn’t be going on right across (from) a school where kids are trying to learn,” Todd Walker said. “I wasn’t going to take a chance with my daughter getting hurt.”
Glen Abalayan, a third-year philosophy student at UCLA, said he decided to travel to UC Berkeley when he discovered that Coulter was visiting the campus. On his way, he found out that Coulter had canceled her planned speech.
“We want to defend our right to free speech,” Abalayan said. “You can’t silence somebody with threats of violence.”
Officers from UCPD, BPD, Oakland Police Department and Alameda County Sheriff’s Office had covered the entirety of Sproul Plaza by Thursday morning, and UCPD Officer Sean Aranas said he expected to be on Sproul Plaza all day. The Student Union and Golden Bear Cafe were both closed as of noon.
BPD and UCPD released Nixle alerts about noon, advising community members about the protests and warning them that there would be heavy police presence in Downtown Berkeley and the south campus area. Both departments emphasized that while they supported the expression of free speech, they will “actively be looking to arrest people committing violence or other crimes.”