The mayor of Berkeley, California, has urged the university to cancel over safety concerns next month’s conservative-led Free Speech Week, which is expected to draw the “alt-right” firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos to the campus.
“I don’t want Berkeley being used as a punching bag,” Mayor Jesse Arreguin told the San Francisco Chronicle.
His comments came after Berkeley police made 13 arrests Sunday as thousands of protesters, including the antifa, turned out to rally against President Trump and “hate,” the latest clash this year between activists on the left and the right.
“I am concerned about these groups using large protests to create mayhem,” he said. “It’s something we have seen in Oakland and Berkeley.”
Keeping controversial speakers away from campus may be difficult, given that newly minted University of California, Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ has declared that the 2017-2018 academic year will be a “free speech year.”
Berkeley Patriot, a student group, already has secured a commitment from Mr. Yiannopoulos, the former Breitbart columnist and conservative provocateur, to speak during Free Speech Week, scheduled to run from Sept. 24-27.
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The group also is reportedly trying to invite former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and conservative commentator Ann Coulter, while the Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro already is scheduled to speak Sept. 14 in an appearance sponsored by Berkeley College Republicans.
“I’m very concerned about Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter and some of these other right-wing speakers coming to the Berkeley campus, because it’s just a target for black bloc to come out and commit mayhem on the Berkeley campus and have that potentially spill out on the street,” Mr. Arreguin said.
Last week, Ms. Christ said in an open email to the campus that free speech is “who we are,” noting that Berkeley was home to the free-speech movement of the 1960s.
“The university has the responsibility to provide safety and security for its community and guests, and we will invest the necessary resources to achieve that goal,” Ms. Christ said in her Aug. 23 statement. “If you choose to protest, do so peacefully. That is your right, and we will defend it with vigor. We will not tolerate violence, and we will hold anyone accountable who engages in it.”
Mr. Arreguin, a Democrat who attended UC Berkeley, said he understood concerns about free speech, but that “there is a line between freedom of speech and then posing a risk to public safety.”
“That is where we have to really be very careful — that while protecting people’s free-speech rights, we are not putting our citizens in a potentially dangerous situation and costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars fixing the windows of businesses,” he said.
Leftist protesters rioted and caused $100,000 in property damage in response to a planned Feb. 1 speech by Mr. Yiannopoulos, which was canceled before it began because of safety issues.
A scheduled appearance by Miss Coulter in April was canceled after Young America’s Foundation said it could not guarantee the safety of staff or students.