Riot gear equipped officers from three different departments encircled a portion of UC Berkeley’s campus Thursday night as security for Ben Shapiro’s 7 p.m. speaking engagement.
Shapiro is a right wing political pundit who has written for Breitbart, The Daily Wire and other similar publications.
He was invited to campus by the Young America’s Foundation (YAF), a self-described conservative youth non-profit, as part of a multi-week controversial speakers panel that features Ann Coulter and Steve Bannon.
Police officers from the Monterey County Sheriff’s department, as well as university police, manned barricades at Haas Pavilion, the Cesar E. Chavez Student Center, and the plaza. Only ticket holders were permitted entrance beyond the barricades and upon entry were asked to go through a metal detector and be wanded with a smaller detector.
Counter protesters gathered at the entrance to Sproul Plaza and in front of the barricaded entrance to Spieker Plaza, with the former gathering featuring multiple activist and student speakers.
Andrew Mukhtar, a computer science major at Chabot College, patiently waited to enter with colleagues at the campus side of Sproul Plaza. “I’m a fan of Ben Shapiro,” he said.
“I hope they don’t mess up so much stuff that it’s going to be cancelled again,” Mukhtar said in reference to counter protesters like Antifa, an anti fascist activist group that fought with right wing supporters in an Aug. 27 Berkeley protest, who were not present this evening.
Tyler Dechance, a 22-year-old software major at Berkeley City College, was sitting on a nearby bench just outside Sproul Plaza. “I think he should speak here without violent outbreaks, as the last two or three people have been,” he said.
“I agree with some, but not all,” Dechance said in reference to some of Shapiro’s statements.
He felt security improved from previous events. “I feel it’s blocked off around the whole speaking area, there’s more police presence. It seems like their coordination is more on point,” he said.
“Right now it’s okay, but we’ll see once it gets dark, because that’s usually when stuff turns,” Dechance said, referencing the atmosphere of Berkeley as the event was set to start.
Gissela Moya, a political science major at UC Berkeley, was not attending the speaking event, but was in the small crowd gathered around the main entrance. “It’s kind of sad, more than anything. All this presence of police, it’s way too much,” she said.
“You also have to think about how brown students don’t feel safe with the police presence most of the time … it’s another added stress,” she said.
Moya felt the law enforcement presence was a bit unsettling, but needed and offered salient commentary about the closures on campus.
“You still need police, but not this amount … why do they have to have it there and close all the spaces for brown students like Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, MCC. All the spaces are closed to bring someone who’s going to be going against their own existence,” she said.
Reverend Aaron is one of the co-founders of Punks for Progress, a local activist group fighting against fascism. He spoke to the crowd in front of the Bancroft Way entrance to Sproul Plaza for a few minutes, offering words of activism to resounding cheers.
“It’s a manifestation of fascism. The police force was founded to round up slaves. The first manifestation of its militarizing was to shut down the panthers in LA. That’s the first time SWAT manifested itself. So it’s here doing what it does. It protects fascism,” he said.
Aaron felt the marketing of Shapiro’s talk as a free speech event was misleading and inaccurate.
“It depends on what your definition of free speech is obviously. Everyone who’s standing and speaking here is maintaining that what Ben Shapiro practices isn’t free speech, it’s hate speech. The thing with Ben Shapiro and people of his ilt, like Milo and Ann Coulter, they know how to shadow the full intensity of the fascist speak that they’re espousing, so it doesn’t look on it’s surface like hate speech, but it rallies racists and fascists in the communities that hear them, and empowers them,” he said.
A woman was taken out on a stretcher after incurring a head injury.