Hundreds march through UC Berkeley protesting police presence at canceled ‘Free Speech Week’ event

Kayla Brown/Staff

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Despite the cancellation of “Free Speech Week” at UC Berkeley, about 200 people marched from Crescent Lawn to Wheeler Hall on Monday afternoon to protest militarization and police presence on campus.

Roughly 100 people — a crowd composed of UC Berkeley staff members, librarians and local activist groups such as By Any Means Necessary, or BAMN — gathered at Crescent Lawn about noon for the “Berkeley Rally Against White Supremacy.”

The demonstration was initially organized to protest the scheduled appearances of Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter and Steve Bannon, among others, on the UC Berkeley campus for Free Speech Week, but organizers moved forward with the rally despite the event’s abrupt cancellation, which was announced Saturday. Yiannopoulos also briefly appeared on campus Sunday despite the cancellation of Free Speech Week, speaking to a crowd of roughly 50 people for approximately 20 minutes.

Security costs in connection with his appearance will amount to an estimated $800,000 for UC Berkeley, and UCPD received assistance from at least 14 other law enforcement agencies, including Berkeley Police Department, Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, California Highway Patrol, Oakland Police Department and Stanford University Police Department.

Monday’s protest remained largely peaceful in spite of some tension between members of the crowd. Several attendees, including Michael Cohen, a campus African American studies professor, addressed the crowd during the event. Cohen called it a “beautiful sight” to see so many different people and groups at the protest. He said to the crowd that it was both a tragedy and a humiliation that people such as Yiannopoulos caused the campus to spend so much money, and he thanked people for attending the peaceful protest Sunday.

“We are the people that drove Milo out for the second time now,” Cohen said to the crowd.

Other speakers at the protest addressed Free Speech Week as well, emphasizing the difference between speech and hate speech.

“I’m not interested in shutting down free speech,” said Alborz Ghandehari, a UC San Diego graduate student who is part of the UC Student-Workers Union, to the crowd. “I’m interested in shutting down a platform for white nationalists.”

Several reporters from Infowars also attended the protest, but they were largely blocked off by protesters. Some protesters shouted phrases at the Infowars staff members such as “Bigot, bigot, out, out, out.”

The crowd soon grew to 200 people and began to march toward campus about 1 p.m. As the protesters entered Wheeler Hall and students began leaving the Wheeler Auditorium, a fire alarm was pulled in the building, resulting in police officers organizing an evacuation of the area.

UCPD issued a Nixle alert about 1:26 p.m., advising the community to “use caution in the area” near Wheeler Hall because roughly 200 people were occupying the steps and the inside of the building.

The activist groups at the protest include BAMN, Antifa, Socialist Alternative, Refuse Fascism and International Socialist Organization, Bay Area District.

Throughout the protest, police officers followed protesters to monitor the situation. By 1:40 p.m., about 100 protesters remained on the steps of Wheeler Hall, holding banners and chanting phrases such as “They say get back, we say fight back.” Some protesters inside Wheeler Hall hung a banner out the window that said, “Cops off campus.”

Campus sophomore Nathan Blair, however, said he disagreed with the protesters’ method to express their views because it disrupted his classes.

“I don’t think they’re getting anyone on their side by doing this,” Blair said. “I came here to learn — to get an education. They should do this in administration’s buildings.”

UCPD spokesperson Sgt. Sabrina Reich said UCPD arrested one person who has no affiliation to the campus at the protest. The suspect is named Russell Bates, a 70-year-old Berkeley resident, and he was cited in connection with wearing a mask to conceal his identity at Wheeler Hall and was later released, according to Reich.

Protesters started to disperse about 2 p.m. UCPD released a Nixle alert about 2:20 p.m. confirming that Wheeler Hall had been cleared and that protesters had left the building. Classes in Wheeler Hall will proceed as scheduled, the alert stated.

Staff writers Adrianna Buenviaje, Chantelle Lee, Malini Ramaiyer, Anjali Shrivastava, Harini Shyamsundar and Ani Vahradyan contributed to this report.

Contact The Daily Californian News Staff at [email protected].