BERKELEY (AP) — University of California, Berkeley officials say they are working extensively with police to ensure security ahead of politically charged events planned in coming weeks and growing concerns the campus could once again become a flashpoint for the country’s political divisions.
The university’s new chancellor, Carol Christ, voiced her “outrage, concern and grief” over the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia and her determination to both protect free speech on campus but also avoid political violence at UC Berkeley.
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“We have not only an obligation to protect free speech but an obligation to keep our community safe,” Christ said in her first news conference as the university’s new chancellor, which was dominated by questions on security. “I’ve been working extensively with the police to plan for any disruptions that might occur.”
Berkeley’s reputation as one of the country’s most liberal universities, in one of America’s most liberal cities, has made it a target for conservative speakers since Trump’s election. Violent protests and clashes between pro-Trump and anti-Trump groups have erupted in city streets near the campus, most recently in April when a bloody brawl broke out in downtown Berkeley.
Christ spoke about concerns ahead of two rallies scheduled for the end of the month and a still-to-be confirmed speaking event by former Breitbart editor Ben Shaipro, who was invited by campus Republicans to speak Sept. 14.
“We are trying to prepare for that as much as we can,” she said, partly by “putting an enormous emphasis on security and safety.”
The chancellor told KPIX 5 there are two parts to her approach to keeping students safe on a campus where violence has caused the cancellation of conservative events.
The first part is to provide plenty of security.
“Were putting an enormous emphasis on safety and security,” said Christ.
But security is expensive, and the school is facing a deficit that requires deep spending cuts. Still, Christ says safety is the priority.
“Yes, would I rather spend those dollars in different ways? Absolutely,” said Christ. “I’d rather have more sections of computer science classes for undergraduates but it is critical for us to protect free speech and we will expend what we need to in order to do that.”
The second part is community education and outreach to create what she calls resilience and strength.
“I feel that we are going to have a Free Speech Year at Berkeley in which we are creating multiple opportunities to engage the issue of free speech,” explained Christ.
She declined to discuss security details but said she is working closely with campus police, the city and mayor of Berkeley.
Later this month, a conservative, pro-Trump group known as Patriot Prayer has scheduled an Aug. 26 rally in San Francisco and another one in Berkeley the following day. The group’s Portland, Oregon rally ended in violence and 14 arrests on June 4, a week after two Portland men were fatally stabbed trying to stop a man from shouting anti-Muslim insults at two teenage girls.
One of the featured speakers at Patriot Prayer’s San Francisco rally is Kyle Chapman, who was arrested after a video camera allegedly captured him hitting an anti-fascist over the head with a billy club during a chaotic March 4 demonstration in Berkeley. Chapman describes himself in social media as a “proud American nationalist” and “ardent Trump supporter.”
Campus Republicans have invited Shapiro to speak Sept 14.
An event featuring Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley, also planned by the campus Republicans, was called off after protests over his views on race and transgender people turned violent.
Christ said that Shapiro would be allowed to speak at Zellerbach Hall, a venue that seats several hundred people. She said the university is determined for the event to happen, despite concerns about violent protests.
Berkeley College Republicans vice president Naweed Tahmas said the proposed security cost for the venue would be nearly $10,000 and was too expensive for the group to afford. He said they have requested a smaller venue.
Campus spokesman Dan Mogulof could not immediately be reached for comment.
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