Three arrested as protesters gather at UC Berkeley before conservative speaker Ben Shapiro gives talk
Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro was set to speak at UC Berkeley on Thursday evening amid intense security and some anxiety after a series of violent clashes between far-left and far-right protesters over the past few months.
Large swaths of the campus were closed off, and there was a heavy law enforcement presence in advance of Shapiroâs appearance. It remained unclear whether far-right and so-called âantifa,â or anti-fascist, agitators would show up.
About 5 p.m., a small crowd of Refuse Fascism demonstrators gathered in front of the campus to âspeak outâ against white supremacy, misogyny and fascism. Feet away, standing behind barriers, officers in riot gear formed a line outside the campus student store.
Messages of resistance â" âWe donât want your racist hateâ â" were scrawled on sidewalks in chalk.
By 6 :30 p.m., authorities had arrested three people for carrying banned weapons. For Thursdayâs event, police temporarily banned sticks, pipes, poles and anything else they said that can be used to riot.
One of the three, 20-year-old Hannah Benjamin, was also arrested on suspicion of battery on a police officer, according to Berkeley police.
Demonstrators appeared otherwise peaceful.
Video posted on social media showed two officers confiscating a manâs poster because it was attached to a wooden stick, which the officers said they considered a weapon.
âHey, if you get another sign you canât have a stick on it, OK?â one of the officers told the man.
Several weeks ago, far-left forces attacked several far-right demonstrators in Berkeley, sparking arrests and much debate about the line between protest and criminal behavior. Earlier this year, protesters set fires and forced the abrupt cancellation of a talk by conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos.< /p>
As police officers cleared out a section of campus around Zellerbach Hall where Shapiro was set to talk, students said they were weary of the next chapter after six months of protests on and around campus.
Juanna Falcon, a 20-year-old junior studying environment economics, said she was going to skip the talk. The whole situation, she said, had disturbed the "learning environment" on the campus.
"I guess there is a limit to free speech," she said. "Hearing out a speaker that's OK, sometime I just wonder if all this security enforcement really does something or does it just draw more attention."
Campus officials said they are spending $600,000 on security for Thursday's event.
Sophomore Katelyn Tupen said the Berkeley College Republicans had a right to host a controversial speaker. But she wasn't a fan of the campus shutdown.
"I got to study for my calculus midterm tomorrow,â she said.
S hapiroâs appearance is a key test for Berkeley, which has been hit by a series of violent clashes between far-left and far-right agitators that have sparked soul-searching in this liberal community about the line between protest and criminal behavior. Berkeley has become a favorite spot for far-right demonstrators to speak out, knowing they can get attention and push buttons in enemy territory.
The Thursday event marks the start of a parade of right-wing speakers who may be coming to campus over the next month. They include former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and right-wing provocateurs Ann Coulter and Yiannopoulos, who announced that they will appear as part of a âFree Speech Weekâ event on campus.
The event is organized by Yiannopoulos and a student group, but officials said they are still working on details of the event.
City and campus officials took heightened steps to prevent the sort of chaos that descended on campus when Yiannopoulos tried to speak in February.
Police officers were setting up physical barriers in a roughly half-mile-long perimeter around six campus buildings Thursday afternoon, cutting off access to Sproul Plaza, the site of Mario Savioâs famous 1964 address during the free speech movement and a common meeting ground for activists of all stripes.
To pass through the security perimeter, people will have to show tickets for the speech. Those who show up to protest will encounter an âincreased and highly visible police presence,â Provost Paul Alivisatos said in a letter to the campus last week.
Businesses citing concerns for employee and customer safety closed early, while a bank near campus boarded up its automated teller machines.
If protesters spill into the city business district south of campus, along Telegraph Avenue, they will encounter the cityâs police force â" which is now free to use pepper spray on individual protesters officers deem are committing acts of violence.
Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood successfully pitched the City Council on Tuesday to adjust a 1997 ban on the use of pepper spray as a crowd-control technique.
Shapiro resigned from the Bannon-led Breitbart News after a colleague of his accused then-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski of assaulting her.
âSteve Bannon is a bully, and has sold out Andrew [Breitbart]âs mission in order to back another bully, Donald Trump; he has shaped the company into Trumpâs personal Pravda,â Shapiro wrote in a statement at the time.
During the election, his lashing critiques of Trump made him one of the more prominent opponents of the then-Republican nominee in the conservative movement.
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7:20 p.m.: This article was updated with information about arrests.
6:45 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from students.
5:55 p.m.: This article was updated with information about two people being detained by police.
5:20 p.m.: This article was updated with information about protesters gathering outside UC Berkeley.
This article was originally published at 4:45 p.m.Copyright Â© 2017, Los Angeles TimesSource: Google News