San Francisco

Questions Arise About Violence at Berkeley Free-Speech Rally

Police allowed Antifa group to enter park despite its violations of rules against masks and weapons; 13 arrested

There was a considerable contrast between free speech rallies on both sides of the bay over the weekend, raising questions about whether the brief spurts of violence in Berkeley could have been prevented.

Thousands of protesters marched safely in the streets of San Francisco on Saturday, but on Sunday at Civic Center Park in Berkeley, what started peacefully broke into violent clashes between "alt-right" and anti-fascist groups, pitting the principles of free speech against anti-hate.

Thirteen people were arrested, 11 for banned items and two for felony assault, according to Berkeley police.

Berkeley PD
Berkeley police identified and released mug shots of 13 people arrested during Sunday's free-speech rally. (Aug. 28, 2017)

Police said the 13 people arrested Sunday were: Seth Vasquez, 25, of Berkeley; Mark Misohink, 23, of Berkeley; James Dominic, 23, of Oakland; Kristopher Wyrick, 39, of Alpine; Harlan Pankau, 38, of Jamul; Levi Smith, 32, of Sparks, Nevada; Sean Hines, 20, of Santa Rosa; Brittany Moorman, 26, of Oakland; Yesenia Mendez, 22, residence unknown; Emily Gillespie, 24, of Berkeley; Sean Dougan, 47, of Portland, Oregon; Rachel Moore, 40, of Oakland; and Joshua Phillips, 36, of Oakland. 

Sunday’s event turned out to be rather one-sided, with a dwindling number of "alt-right" ralliers and many Antifa demonstrators armed and seemingly ready for action.

"When there weren’t conservative protesters that they wanted to fight, they wanted to fight the police," Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin said. "So I think the police made the right decision to pull back, so that they didn’t get hurt and other people didn’t get hurt, to de-escalate the situation."

At least 500 police officers from various agencies were posted around the park Sunday. When the wave of masked Antifa protesters showed up, they were allowed to enter despite their brazen violation of rules.

"Their strategic plan was to bar anybody with weapons. They didn’t say how many they were going to bar; it says nobody gets in with weapons," said Tony Ribera, former San Francisco police chief, referring to Berkeley police rules in advance of the rally. "And yet, they let people in with weapons?"

Ribera served as SFPD chief until 1996. Today, he leads the Institute of Criminal Justice at University of San Francisco. He worries about the precedent of empowering a group like Antifa.

"If people are committed to breaking the law, if you let them get away with it once, they’re gonna get away with it twice," he said.

Ribero's theory may be tested soon, as UC Berkeley is slated to host controversial right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos in September. Yiannopoulos' last appearance on Feb. 1 was cut short to keep the peace but turned into a night of violence and destruction across the city.

Arreguin said the university should think twice about allowing Yiannopoulos to appear.

"We’re concerned about how this is going to impact our public safety resources and our community as a whole," the mayor said.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ plans on hosting Yiannopoulos during Free Speech Week, Sept. 24-27, to preserve free speech.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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