Though the campus had prepared extensively for potential violence, Ben Shapiro’s speaking event at UC Berkeley on Thursday went on largely uninterrupted, drawing a peaceful protest that ended in a short march through Berkeley’s streets.
Shapiro, who was invited to speak by campus group Berkeley College Republicans and was co-sponsored by Young America’s Foundation, spoke at Zellerbach Hall to a crowd of about 700 people. Nearly 50 people gathered near Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue about 5 p.m. to protest Shapiro’s appearance, but the crowd soon grew to about 1,000 people by 7 p.m.
“I’m here because I can’t condone people who think that some problems in my culture represent the entire culture,” said campus freshman Simone Muhammad. “I’m here because they’re infringing on my rights as a bisexual and a black woman.”
Both the campus and the city prepared for violent retaliation to Shapiro’s event in various ways, including setting up barricades around and inside campus Thursday morning. AC Transit buses with routes running south of campus via Telegraph Avenue or Bancroft Way were also diverted, and BART trains skipped over the Downtown Berkeley station.
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office made nine arrests in conjunction with Berkeley Police Department, as of 10:42 p.m.
BPD also received reports of one individual who was injured as a result of a fall, according to Officer Byron White. In a Nixle alert released early Friday morning, BPD confirmed that there were no reported injuries due to violence and no reports of property damage.
Eliciting chants and cheers from the crowd, Shapiro covered a wide range of controversial topics during his talk, from income inequality to the polarization of the country. At one point, in response to Shapiro’s praise of the campus police, the crowd began to chant “U.S.A.” repeatedly.
“Thank you guys for being here, because, of course, braving the idiots outside is not always easy,” Shapiro said. “Their speech is apparently violent because my speech is violent — so all speech is violent.”
Shapiro specifically mentioned that he is not a member of the “alt-right” — a white nationalist movement — stating that he spent half of his career attacking the “alt-right.” Discussion and debate, Shapiro said, is what America is “all about.”
“Shapiro is very articulate, and he’s a good speaker,” said Celeste Paradise, a Concord resident who attended the protest to support Shapiro. “He’s not just screaming, like some people here.”
Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman, a Trump supporter who was arrested and sentenced for striking people with a large stick at several Trump rallies last spring, attended the event and asked a question about “racism against whites” during the Q&A portion of the event. Shapiro responded by calling affirmative action a racist policy.
After the event, a crowd of about 200 people, led by local activist group By Any Means Necessary, marched westbound on Durant Avenue toward Shattuck Avenue about 10 p.m. The crowd followed Chapman down the block, yelling, “Fascist scum, get off our streets!” The crowd started to dissipate about half an hour later.
Amber Cummings, organizer of the canceled Aug. 27 “No to Marxism in America” rally who previously sold sticks and shields with Chapman in July, was also present at the protest. She said that although she was not attending the Shapiro event, she came to campus to show her support for free speech.
“I should not have to be afraid to walk down an American street,” Cummings said. “I hate the ‘alt-right,’ I hate Antifa.”
Victoria Berdin, a campus senior society and environment major and chair of CalSERVE, also organized a peaceful sit-in inside Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union to protest the closure of the building for the event. Students participating in the sit-in at the MLK Student Union began gathering about 3 p.m.
About 8:45 p.m., the sit-in protesters were told by officers to leave the building two at a time, but they refused, as they would not be allowed back in the building. Shortly after, protestors exited the building, chanting, “To the students, we love you, we love you, you are beautiful.”
“We are tired of being pushed out of our spaces. We want to be put before the speakers that are coming to our campus,” Berdin said. “It’s not just the fact that this person says horrible things that do impact communities in different ways. … These events are displacing a lot of students.”
The city’s Peace and Justice Commission held a town hall Thursday night in honor of its 30th anniversary, as well as to present a “better alternative” to the Shapiro event. Many local activists attended the event to address issues related to peace and justice, including racial justice, militarization and women’s rights.
Mayor Jesse Arreguín also discussed the upcoming “Free Speech Week,” an event organized by controversial right-wing speaker Milo Yiannopoulos that is scheduled to take place Sept. 24-27. Arreguin, who has previously dissuaded community members from attending “alt-right” rallies, encouraged the community to avoid the events and “not give conservatives the attention and the image that they want.”
“When we have speakers coming to Berkeley … spouting hate, it’s important that we reaffirm the values that the Berkeley community stands for,” Arreguín said. “This is what the (Peace and Justice) commission has done.”
About 11 p.m., police officers created perimeters on the intersection of Durant Avenue and Ellsworth Street to maintain order. By this point, the crowd had mostly dispersed, leaving only a few police officers and BAMN members behind.
“Young people need to stand up for what is right in the world. Change comes about when the new generation fights,” said 77-year-old Berkeley resident and former civil rights activist William Beasley.
Staff writers Sakura Cannestra, Revati Thatte, Jessíca Jiménez, Jenny Weng, Jack Austin, Hannah Piette, Sam Levin, Sydney Fix, Ani Vahradyan, Harini Shyamsundar, Chantelle Lee, Ashley Wong, Malini Ramaiyer and Audrey McNamara contributed to this report.
Contact The Daily Californian News Staff at [email protected].