Following Wednesday night’s demonstrations in Berkeley, sparked by a campus visit by conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, the Berkeley Police Department reported no arrests, two to three injuries, and damage to about 15 businesses.
Two of the injured people were beaten and pepper-sprayed by others in the crowd, authorities said.
BPD used no force at any point in the evening, said Officer Byron White, a Berkeley Police Department spokesman.
The University of California Police Department — a completely separate law enforcement agency — has not responded directly to questions regarding injuries, damage, use of force or arrests. The university, which was responsible for the event, has provided a statement condemning violent tactics aimed to shut down free speech and published its own overview of the impacts of the demonstration.
The lack of arrests or apparent police response in the city angered many online, who asked: Where were the police as hundreds of protesters marched through city streets lighting fires and causing some of the most extensive property damage Berkeley has seen during a demonstration.
Authorities have said it was 100-200 people, out of a crowd numbering 1,000 or more, who were responsible for the violence and non-peaceful aspects of the protest. In response to the demonstration, UCPD issued a shelter-in-place advisory on campus that lasted for many hours. Authorities urged everyone to avoid the area of Telegraph and Bancroft, and said they might have to use tear gas to disperse the crowd. Ultimately, it didn’t come to that.
White said BPD had signed up 12 officers to focus on protest activities Wednesday night in addition to the city’s regular patrol. That’s because the event was happening on the UC Berkeley campus, which has its own police force and access to additional resources from other law enforcement agencies through mutual aid agreements.
BPD began getting involved Wednesday shortly after 5 p.m., however, as it worked to help with traffic control around Telegraph Avenue in the neighborhood south of the UC Berkeley campus, where more than 1,000 people had gathered to protest. It quickly became clear, as demonstrators shot commercial-grade fireworks at campus police and smashed windows at the student union, that it was going to be a long night.
As “things began to spiral,” White said, people were taking to the streets and BPD was trying to help get motorists out of the area safely, while blocking streets for traffic control to help keep the demonstration safe.
After UC Berkeley abruptly canceled the Yiannopoulos around 6 p.m., the demonstration moved into Berkeley streets and through downtown. BPD ultimately pulled in another 8-10 officers from its patrol teams to help handle the demonstration, for a total of about 20 BPD officers handling the chaos that ensued.
White said it was clear to police that most members of the crowd were peaceful. But, with so few resources, it was difficult to deal safely with those who weren’t, he said.
“How do you address those disrupting individuals, because they’re not separate,” he said. “They’re intermingled.”
Throughout the night, BPD used the Nixle system to send out 13 advisories to the community to keep them informed about developments. The alert system offers email and text alerts to anyone who signs up. UCPD also used Nixle, but only sent out four alerts.
Because of its limited number of officers, BPD focused on responding to injury reports, White said. He noted that there may have been additional injuries, but said the department isn’t able to handle calls that don’t come in to dispatch. BPD had no injuries to officers. And it did not handle injuries that may have occurred on campus, which is under UCPD’s jurisdiction.
“Whenever we got a report of somebody hurt or injured, we tried to provide protection for fire department personnel to get to the injured person,” White said. “It was quite an active crowd.”
One individual was punched and pepper-sprayed at Addison and Milvia streets, but he was not interested in prosecution, White said. Another person said he was on Shattuck Avenue downtown filming when a group of people began to hit him with sticks and fists, and then pepper-sprayed him.
“Right before that, they said, ‘No filming, no pictures,'” White said. There was some indication a third person may have been injured but police got no further information about it.
There was also a report — and video captured by a San Francisco Chronicle reporter and many others — of a motorist driving through the crowd and hitting someone. But no victims ever came forward. White said the driver did call BPD later and provide his contact information. Absent any complaint, White said, there is not a crime.
White said there was damage to about 15 businesses downtown, particularly on Center Street, and on Telegraph Avenue. The damage included spray paint and graffiti, broken windows and fires being set inside buildings. But any tallies about repair costs, he said, would have to come from insurance companies.
Glass was shattered and ATMS were vandalized at a number of Berkeley banks, including Mechanics Bank, Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo. Starbucks Coffee also had windows smashed, and some trash fires were set around downtown.
After the demonstrators marched back onto the UC Berkeley campus, around 10:30 p.m., White said Berkeley officers responded to the downtown businesses that were boarding up their broken windows to help keep them safe.
White said, as a small- to medium-sized department, BPD did the best it could with the resources it had available. BPD also collected surveillance footage and other evidence so investigators can follow up on the vandalism and other property crimes that took place.
He said he had heard the frustration from people who felt BPD had not done enough to keep order. But he said, due to the nature of the crowd, BPD had done its best. He said there had been numerous reports about members of the crowd who were equipped with aluminum bats and improvised shields, fireworks they were shooting at officers, and bricks and other objects they were throwing at police in coordinated efforts.
“How are 20 cops going to address a crowd of upward of 1,000 people, especially knowing that it’s only a fraction of those people who are the most disruptive?” he said. “Protection of life was our No. 1 focus.”
On Thursday, downtown Berkeley, which suffered the brunt of the damage, was the scene of boarded-up doors and windows, and workmen repairing busted ATM machines. Customers who wanted to patronize Wells Fargo couldn’t walk though the front door but had to use a back entrance because the glass doors had been smashed.
All of the bank’s ATM machines had been covered with graffiti and smashed. Most of the machines were not seriously damaged and were quickly repaired, said one bank employee who did not want to give his name.
Shortly after the protest on Sproul, a group of UC Berkeley students put up a Facebook event page called “Clean Up Berkeley.”
“The violent protests that took place Wednesday night do not represent UC Berkeley,” read the page. “Let’s come together to clean our neighborhood and campus and show everyone what Cal is about. Bring trash bags, gloves, dust pans, brooms, and your friends!” More than 1,000 said they were interested in going and more than 500 signed up to help.
And they did help.
“Berkeley students showed up at 5 am in the rain this morning to clean up the plaza and nearby city streets,” said Christine Shaff, a university spokeswoman. “That’s the story that should be told.”
Sgt. Sabrina Reich, UCPD spokeswoman, said Thursday in a prepared statement that “campus police made one arrest Wednesday, of a non-student, on charges of failure to disperse.” Officers gave many dispersal announcements Wednesday to the crowd outside the the student union, where Yiannopoulos was slated to speak at 8 p.m. after an invitation from the Berkeley College Republicans.
Thursday morning, UCPD said, two members of that group were attacked by two men while conducting an interview by Sproul Hall. UCPD said the men were arrested, but no further information was available pending the ongoing investigation.
Early estimates of damage at UC Berkeley are at approximately $100,000, according to campus officials, “and includes fixing broken windows at the MLK Student Union, replacing a generator that caught fire and was destroyed, sand-blasting paint off the concrete steps of the student union, cleaning up graffiti and possibly replacing some pavers and trees on Sproul Plaza. One tree on the plaza was badly singed by fire.”
Berkeleyside’s Frances Dinkelspiel contributed to this report.