Lawyer Looks for Injured to File Civil Claim After Protesters Hinder Milo Yiannopoulos Event at UC Berkeley - NBC Bay Area
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Lawyer Looks for Injured to File Civil Claim After Protesters Hinder Milo Yiannopoulos Event at UC Berkeley

More than 1,000 rioters smashed windows, set fires, and attacked people on Wednesday in response to an event at UC Berkeley that was meant to feature polarizing Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos. Jodi Hernandez, Elyce Kirchner and Scott Budman report. (Published Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017)

While crews are fixing shattered windows and covering “Kill Trump” messages that pockmark the UC Berkeley campus after more than 1,000 people protested a Milo Yiannopoulos speech on Wednesday, lawyers are circling.

Mike Cernovich, whose website describes him as an Orange County-based lawyer, author and documentary filmmaker, reached out on Twitter to people who were victims of “violence at the Berkeley riots.” At least five people and counting have responded to his request.

The rampage forced university officials to nix the controversial Breitbart editor’s speech and put the campus on lockdown.

"My first reaction to the riots was sadness," Cernovich told NBC Bay Area. "Watching women being hit and maced made me wonder why the far left had become so violent."

Pictures and videos from the chaotic scene on Wednesday showed protesters – who university officials say were not students – lobbing rocks and fireworks at buildings, setting fires, breaking down police barriers, and smashing windows of banks and other Shattuck Avenue businesses. Fights broke out, a few people were hit with pepper spray, and a handful reported being injured, according to witness accounts.

“We are reaching out to lawyers for a civil rights lawsuit,” Cernovich tweeted on the heels of the violence.

He told NBC Bay Area that several lawyers have expressed interest in the lawsuit even though it's not one where there's any money to be made."

Why?

"We would be fighting for the highest principle — free speech," Cernovich replied.

The lawsuit would likely hold city and UC Berkeley police responsible for Wednesday's goings-on, according to Cernovich.

"The police were allowing the violence to occur because they disagreed with Milo's political views," he alleged. "Political discrimination by police is unacceptable in a free society."

Cernovich also took offense to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin's tweets following the protests. 

Arreguin, who might be sued too, first said, "Using speech to silence marginalized communities and promote bigotry is unacceptable. Hate speech isn't welcome in our community."

"Violence and destruction is not the answer," he continued, and thanked the city and university's police officers for preventing "further risk to safety."

However, Arreguin is also facing backlash for labeling Yiannopoulos a “white nationalist." He later amended his comments by tweeting, “I consider much of what Mr. Yiannopoulos says to be hateful. But I regret and apologize for the white national label.”

Meanwhile, the university community remains very much on edge.

Two men were caught on camera Thursday attacking a supporter of President Donald Trump on the university’s periphery. Jack Palkovic says he was wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap on his way to class Thursday when a white SUV screeched to a stop and two young men ran toward him and tried to grab his hat.

"I thought I was safe because I was near the news vans," he said, of the reporters gathered at the scene. 

One of the men screamed an epithet, grabbed Palkovic's hat and pummeled him before the two got back in the vehicle and tried to drive away, said the student. Police arrived, blocked their escape and arrested both men. 

Palkovic said it was a scary few moments, but he's not surprised. After a surge of violence shut down the Yiannopoulos event, he's never felt more targeted. But, he stressed, college Republicans refuse to back down.

“I'm not going to stop wearing the hat,” Palkovic said.

Also on Thursday, students insisted that they were not the ones behind last night's frenzy. They also expressed anger that outsiders had trashed their campus — and their university's reputation.

UC Berkeley administrators also condemned the destructive protests.

"I think this is a time for cool, calm, considerate reflection and for all of us at the university to talk about how we continue our commitment to free speech and expression," said Dan Mogulof, assistance vice chancellor of Public Affairs.

Yiannopoulos was invited by the campus Republican club to speak at UC Berkeley. Members and others who were keen to hear his take on cultural appropriation claim that free speech met a fiery end at a university that has been known as the home of the Free Speech Movement.

An article in Breitbart said that someone leaked to the public where Yiannopoulos and his team were staying, prompting his “Dangerous Faggot Tour” bus to get vandalized. A photograph shows that “Not my president” was spraypainted on the side of the vehicle.

"One thing we do know for sure: the Left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down," Yiannopoulos said on Facebook after being evacuated from UC Berkeley.

The last Bay Area Trump-related melee occurred in June after a campaign rally in downtown San Jose. Fourteen Trump supporters filed a civil rights lawsuit, accusing the city’s police department of failing to protect them.

NBC Bay Area's Jodi Hernandez and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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