Update, 6:10 p.m. Berkeley Police sent out a Nixle alert to say the downtown rally was ending. They said they had made ten arrests, including five for battery, four for assault with a deadly weapon (including one with possession of a dagger), and one for resisting arrest. Among the items confiscated by police were metal pipes, bats, “2 x 4s,” and pieces of wood. A group with bricks was detained and the bricks confiscated. Police said in several cases individuals fighting each other declined police assistance. The alert stated that the police made “every attempt to intercede during acts of violence or rapidly identify victims and suspects. Where victims came forward and provided information, we were more readily able to make arrests.” Seven people were evaluated for medical injuries, but none needed, or wanted, to go to the hospital. Read the full Nixle alert. BPD spokesman Officer Byron White confirmed with Berkeleyside that BPD did not use pepper spray at Saturday’s demonstration.
Update, 5:48 p.m.: There have now been a total of ten arrests at today’s protests in downtown Berkeley, according to Berkeley Police spokesman Officer Byron White at around 5:30 p.m. At around 5 p.m. there was still a fairly small number of protesters at Civic Center Park and about two dozen police officers with batons and helmets. One man standing in the empty fountain near the Peace Wall with a handwritten sign reading “Poverty Party.com” appeared to be enjoying having eggs thrown at him. A number of the protesters were wearing black and/or bandanas across their faces. The atmosphere was tense and police moved in several times to make arrests. It was unclear why the arrests were made. Berkeleyside is waiting to hear back from BPD with more details.
Update 4:35 p.m. A group has returned to Civic Center park, according to Berkeley Police spokesman Officer Byron White. He says there are groups that have splintered-off — possibly returning home or leaving the area.
Update, 4:26 p.m. Berkeley Police say, via a Nixle alert, that misinformation is being spread over social media that a person at the demonstration died as a result of stab wounds. This is not true, say the police.
Update, 4:17 p.m.: There have now been five arrests, according to Berkeley Police spokesman Officer Byron White.
Update, 4:10 p.m.: There have now been four arrests, according to Berkeley Police spokesman Officer Byron White.
Update, 3:40 p.m.: Berkeley Police spokesman Officer Byron White said there has been one arrest and three injuries.
Update, 3:30 p.m.: Civic Center Park is largely empty, reports Knobel, after protesters, beginning with the Trump supporters, began to leave the park and disperse. According to a Berkeley Police Nixle alert, protesters are are marching towards UC Berkeley taking Allston Way. [This proved not to be the case later — the protest did not go to UC Berkeley.]
Update, 3:20 p.m.: The main group of Trump supporters is leaving the park, according to Lance Knobel. One person was being treated for an injury by the police.
Update, 3:14 p.m.: Reporting from Civic Center Park, Berkeleyside’s Lance Knobel says at least one more fist-fight has broken out and one person has been pepper-sprayed.
ORIGINAL STORY: An estimated 200 protesters were gathered at Civic Center Park in downtown Berkeley under gray skies at around 2 p.m. Saturday and the numbers were growing, as was the tension in the air.
Two distinct groups were in the park to make their voices heard: pro-Trump demonstrators, many from out of town, calling for free speech and to “put America first,” and those, led by the By Any Means Necessary group, standing against the President, and, in particular, his immigration policies.
Berkeleyside has been on scene since midday and continues to report live from from the park on Twitter where about 20 police officers arrived at around 12:30 p.m. By 2 p.m. many were pulling down their riot visors and moving closer to groups where at least one fight had broken out. At 2:40 p.m. Officer Byron White of BPD said there had not been any arrests.
Many of the pro-Trump people had come in from out of town.
The first person to show up with a March For Trump sign was Tito Mena who said he was a US citizen although his family was from Tijuana, Mexico. Mena said he had come to Berkeley to uphold freedom of speech and that he did not condone violence. “I stand with the President,” he said, adding that he did not think the president’s accomplishments were being well-reported. “The media is blowing everything out of proportion,” he said. “All the good things Trump is doing are being buried in sensationalism.” Asked by a reporter what good things he thought the president had done, he mentioned the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Keystone Pipeline. “Building the pipeline will mean using American steel and creating American jobs,” he said.
Berkeleyside spoke to several people who had got up at 4 a.m. to drive up from Orange County, as well as one person from Pacifica and one from Livermore.
Brian Medina from Orange County said he had come to support free speech. Describing himself as “a libertarian more than a conservative,” he said he had seen what happened at the Milo Yiannopoulos protests in Berkeley on Feb. 1. “I saw how the violence started and it was awful,” he said. Medina said he assumed the rioting was started by anarchists, and assumed they were from the far left.
The origin of the pro-Trump protest is unclear, although a group called March For Trump posted it would be holding a demonstration at Civic Center Park in Berkeley at 2 p.m. Saturday. Similar demos were planned for around the country Saturday, including at the Washington Monument in DC. The stated purpose: to unite against a “seditious fringe [that] has resolved to sabotage [President Trump’s] restored purpose” of putting “America first.” The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) — announced a counter-protest to the pro-Trump demo, stating its purpose is to “confront and defeat the Trump movement” with “no platform for fascists and white supremacists.”
At midday there was a peaceful atmosphere at the park, with the weekly farmers’ market in full swing and just a few reporters with cameras and notepads waiting to see what, if anything, would transpire. A representative from the Ecology Center, which runs the farmers’ markets in Berkeley, said he had not noticed any change in the number of people showing up at the market.
At around 12:30 p.m. about 20 police officers arrived and took up positions on the south side of the park and on the elevated section next to the Peace Wall. Armed with batons, as well as at least one video camera, they at first observed from a distance. A handful of officers were stationed at the entrance to downtown Berkeley BART station from around noon.
Between 1 and 1:30 p.m. pro-Trump supporters began to arrive in small groups or individuals on their own. Some carried flags, mostly the stars and stripes as well as at least one black and yellow anarcho-capitalism flag. Some wore red baseball caps and others leather biker-style jackets. A Russian flag could also be seen in the crowd, although it was unclear what type of protester was carrying it.
At first, the BAMN group was congregated on the west side of the park and it kickstarted proceedings with controversial BUSD teacher Yvette Felarca making a speech through a megaphone.
The video below, shot at 1:38 p.m., shows BAMN group chanting in the direction of the Trump supporters who were grouped together about a hundred yards away across the park:
As numbers swelled on both sides, for about one hour there were two discrete groups separated by a large stretch of green lawn — rather like a middle-school dance with the girls on one side of the room and the boys on the other.
By around 2 p.m. the groups had drawn closer together, and, as they merged, the odd confrontational conversation had escalated into at least one fight. There were also relatively calm conversations taking place among those from opposing sides aiming to have a constructive dialogue.
Berkeleyside spoke with Timothy Watkins, originally from New Orleans. Watkins has lived in San Francisco for five years but today was the first day he had been to the East Bay. A self-described “person of color and homosexual,” he said Trump had brought him to Berkeley. He said he had “come out of hiding” to show his support for President Trump and to encourage others like himself to do the same. He said he believed the president had the back of both gay people and people of color.
During the protest different groups chanted slogans and sang songs. At one point, after the first fight had broken out, a group of pro-Trump supporters were urged by one of their own to “take a knee so that the police can do their job,” which about 12 of them did.
“I’m here for freedom of speech for everybody,” said Trish Cress, a woman from Healdsburg who was wearing a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap. “We should be able to gather here peacefully. I saw people get beaten up.”
Berkeley City Councilman Ben Bartlett was at the protest, and State Senator Nancy Skinner was there for a time too.
Throughout the main protest at the park, from midday to around 5 p.m., there were no helicopters overhead. Around 5 p.m. when a only a few stragglers, most of whom seemed to be either Antifa or BAMN related, remained, a red helicopter did begin to hover over the park. Protesters, some of whom were wearing all black and wearing bandanas, were goading the police and some threw eggs. Several arrests were made.
The video below shows a verbal confrontation between two people who showed up to the protest. There were several such incidents of slanging matches:
Berkeleyside’s Lance Knobel contributed reporting. This developing story was updated regularly after publication.