Mayor Jesse Arreguín urged the campus to cancel plans to host Milo Yiannopoulos during a student group’s upcoming “Free Speech Week,” as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Chancellor Carol Christ confirmed Aug. 23 that Yiannopoulos will return to campus in September. The Berkeley Patriot, a conservative campus newspaper, is hosting Free Speech Week, and it has invited several speakers, including Yiannopoulos, to attend.
Arreguín said, however, that his concern about Yiannopoulos’s visit is not related to the viewpoints of the speaker but rather the violence that might be provoked in the city.
“Whether or not speakers are allowed is a university decision,” Arreguín said. “I expect the university to do everything they can to safeguard our community, which they have already promised to do.”
Yvette Felarca, activist and member of By Any Means Necessary, alleged that the city disproportionately arrested and charged anti-fascist protesters and said the charges against counterprotesters should be dropped.
“I won’t call it ‘Free Speech Week,’ because it’s not about free speech,” Felarca said. “What he’s trying to do is silence us. … He should not be here; he is not welcome.”
Felarca said visits by right-wing speakers such as Yiannopoulos threaten the safety of minorities on campus, including Muslim, immigrant and transgender students.
But Councilmember Kriss Worthington said it is the responsibility of the city to allow varying perspectives to be expressed while providing for public safety regardless of an individual’s political viewpoint.
Worthington added that by being exposed to different viewpoints, students can learn and figure out whether they agree or not.
“I grew up in a mostly conservative area, and the fact that I was a Democrat was radical … so I have sympathy for people that are in a minority point of view,” Worthington said. “In Berkeley, there is a dominance of liberal beliefs, but we need to have space for other points of view. Christ (is) doing a balancing act.”
Worthington also touched on the Berkeley Police Department’s role during protests, stating that the department is learning how to better deal with protest violence with each new event.
He also praised Christ for striking a balance between allowing many points of view and providing for public safety.
“Berkeley’s values of inclusivity are woven into the fabric of our community,” Arreguín said in his statement. “No opinion, however controversial, can ever threaten that.”
According to the SF Chronicle, Arreguín has advocated classifying “black bloc” as a gang in response to recent protests.
Black bloc is a tactic used by protesters and individuals and is frequently associated with Antifa, which is an umbrella organization for far-left-leaning militant groups. “Black bloc tactics” involve dressing in all black and sometimes damaging property.
But according to Worthington, a proposal to classify those who employ “black bloc tactics” as a gang has not yet been proposed to City Council.
“Anybody who’s practicing violence, no matter what their political view is, we need to stop the violence,” Worthington said. “We can’t focus on left-wing or right-wing violence. We just need to stop the violence.”