First of all, despite requests to the contrary, the University was adamant that Milo Yiannopoulos be allowed to speak, citing Berkeley’s commitment to free speech, although the administration noted that it was strongly opposed to his views and methods. The University took a number of precautions to assure the safety of all people involved, recognizing the inevitability of a protest.
On the day of Mr. Yiannopoulos’ visit, the campus was already buzzing with security and media, with helicopters flying over head, at 4:30 or so, hours before the event. A crowd began to gather and, although I was in class, I have heard from nearly all sources that the protest was entirely peaceful. As the campus grew dark, a group of black-clad, armed, self-proclaimed “anti-fascists” that authorities have determined were unassociated with the University or its student body showed up, stormed the barricades, broke windows, set off firecrackers, and built a bonfire. I know a number of students who left at this point and videos have shown that the vast majority of those that stayed remained bystanders and did not participate in the violence. Only at this point was the talk canceled, citing the danger to both students and Mr. Yiannopoulos.
This had already happened when I got out of class, but I can tell you what happened when I got back to my dorm. In the lobby I found a floormate of mine who had been coming back from class telling the others how he had been pepper-sprayed and beaten by one of the “anti-fascists” and called a Nazi. He’s a Syrian Muslim. He was not making it up; I saw the welts on his back. This is his Facebook post, with his name not included for anonymity:
“Last night as I was walking back to my dorm, I was abruptly approached by a man and told I “look like a Nazi”. The man then pepper sprayed me and beat me to the ground with a baton. This man was NOT a student at the university. I repeat he was NOT a student. I am certain that he belonged to a group of anarchists who solely wished to incite violence and crime at this protest.“
Later that evening, I observed, from my dorm window, a crowd of individuals who did indeed appear to be students (though I cannot confirm this) marching through the streets of Berkeley with signs like “this is war,” causing some minor vandalism at a construction site across the street (pulling open barricades, knocking over small stacks of pipes – but no actual destruction). I have attached a picture I took to this email (sorry it’s rather blurry). I do indeed find it shameful that students would act in this way but I feel like it is balanced out by the students who later took to the street to clean up the mess, even though they had no part in it (the video is online).
To summarize: Yes, there were Berkeley students who engaged in riot-like behavior. However, they were unarmed and did not cause the damage that most news stories are portraying, e.g. the toppled floodlight or the broken windows. They were riled up by a group of unassociated “anti-fascists” intent on causing mayhem. The vast majority of students were peaceful protesters. Rather than assaulting freedom of speech, the University of California, Berkeley did everything in its power to allow Mr. Yiannopoulos to speak, even though they knew it could be dangerous. Claims that crowds of violent Berkeley students were intent on preventing free speech and causing destruction are simply incorrect and are slander on an institution that has been one of the greatest champions of free speech the world has known. The university has protests regularly, often quite well attended, that remain entirely peaceful.
I hope my views can shed some light on the events and I respectfully ask you to do all you can to set the record straight and tell people the truth. I know a number of people who want to give Berkeley the benefit of the doubt, but have simply been misinformed.