***Additional reporting by Ian Williams***
BERKELEY, Calif. — Thousands gathered at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park Sunday morning in response to an alt-right rally causing an uproar of violence with counter protesters that left 13 arrested.
Counter-protesters, numbering in the hundreds, seized Civic Center Park after police abandoned their positions in the face of the agitated assembly. The anti-fascist group known as “Antifa,” ready with colorfully painted plywood shields that read “no hate,” lead the way into the park.
Police soon retreated to the Ronald Tsukamoto Public Safety Building situated across the street from MLK Park, but were followed by counter-protesters chanting “Cops and Klan, hand in hand.” The crowd approached the building, but were stopped by police in full riot-gear who now stood their ground. Police brandished clubs and non-lethal crowd control weapons, but only used pepper spray in defense of the building.
Amber Cummings, the organizer for the right-wing rally “No to Marxism in America,” called it off last Friday due to the fear of violence that could potentially occur. Cummings, a transgender woman and Trump supporter, has rebuked racism. Cummings blames mayor Jesse Arreguin and left-wing extremists from allowing people to speak an unpopular opinion.
In her mass announcement she asked the public to not attend the rally, because she wished to do so alone. “That being said I stress DO NOT ATTEND THIS RALLY PLEASE. This rally will take place, but it will be me alone attending, no one else please,” said Cummings.
Berkeley Police said several thousand gathered at MLK Jr. Civic Center Park, to protest the planned “No to Marxism in America” event despite the cancellation.
Frances Maples, 21, attended the recent rallies that have taken place across the bay. She heard about the “No Hate” rally after attending the rally that took place at Alamo Square Park on Saturday.
“We’re hoping people will see that it’s a peaceful protest,” said Maples. “I’m hoping that alt-right groups see the response that’s coming up against them and they start to understand that the American people aren’t going to stand by and let them continue to spout their rhetoric without being held in check.”
Hundreds united at Berkeley’s Ohlone Park where a peaceful gathering first took place for the “No Hate” rally to oppose racism, hate speech and white supremacy.. Not too long after, the crowd marched and chanted their way to the MLK Jr. Civic Center.
Groups of hundreds were walking down the street by the Civic Center Park chanting “No Nazi’s, No KKK, No Fascist USA!” and “Say it loud, say it clear, Nazi’s are not welcome here!” Some protesters threw smoke grenades at the feet of police, filling the air with a purple screen.
“I come from a long history of activism, with strong roots in the Bay. I was raised to believe in equality for all people, that’s what this is about—not Trump,” said a protester who goes by Italo Unti.
Unti attended the protest but was very stern on not releasing his full identity. He knows that attending such a public event draws the potential risk, he described, that “some will use that to try and identify you, and make public what would otherwise be private.”
“From what I have seen over the past year, most of the violence has come from the police. I have less fear of a group of 50 rightwing people than the police who, in the past, have shown a tendency of violence,” said Unti.
Ari Ferare, 21, an alumni from University of California, Berkeley, attended the rally in the hope that it would remain peaceful. But as a local resident she is fully aware how fast these rallies can escalate to violent protests.
“There’s just always this group that shows up and starts breaking and destroying things, and just wrecking the local community,” said Ferare. “It’s not the people who are here that are breaking the community that we live in, but that’s all anyone sees.” Ferare feels that, as of late, Berkeley has received only negative attention from the media.
Over the past year, University of California, Berkeley and the city have been a major site for violence and political disagreements. Last February, violence broke out at the UC Berkeley campus after conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak. This past April, the Patriot’s Day rally turned violent after Trump supporters and white supremacists clashed with a black bloc protest group.
On Miliva and Center streets, there was a long line of activists waiting their turn to have their bags checked by police in order to pass the barricade on Sunday. Berkeley’s city manager had fliers posted around the Civic Center describing items that were not allowed inside.
The list included: bricks, rocks, pepper or bear spray, mace, knives/daggers, firearms, shields, axes/axe handles/ hatchets, ice picks, tasers, IED’s, fire works, dynamite, torches, lanterns, and any item that is generally considered an “implement of riot” that can be used as a weapon.
The university will be having a “Free Speech Week” Sept. 24-27, to which UC Berkeley invited Steve Bannon, Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos to attend.