As the nation watched the blood of both free speech activists and their protesters spill into the streets of California on Saturday, there seems to be a massive disagreement between journalists and organizers about the effectiveness of the police.
Organizers claim that the police did a “pretty damn good job,” while journalists known for covering riots assert that the police allowed the situation to boil over far beyond what they should have and failed to protect those in attendance.
As the violence escalated police in Berkeley stood down and retreated from the crowds. I have never seen so few police at an event like this
— Tim Pool (@Timcast) April 16, 2017
Speaking to Big League Politics, “Patriot’s Day” organizer Richard Black stated that things were not exactly as they seemed on social media.
“We were given some assurances, and their plan for dealing with what was going to go down,” Black told Big League Politics. “Honestly I felt, as did our security detail, that they [the police] did exactly what they said they were going to do.”
Police had promised Black that the event would be protected and run smoothly, as long as neither group crossed over a flimsy plastic orange barrier that was erected between the two groups. The plan was to have police occupy the path between the mesh fencing to keep the opposing groups apart. Black added that he was informed by law enforcement that if people crossed over into their opposing side, their safety could not be guaranteed.
“I felt the police were doing a pretty damn good job,” Black stated. “It is a popular notion to say that the police had been ordered to stand down, but I can tell you as an organizer who was working closely with them, that was not the case.”
However, as the “Patriot’s Day” free speech rally began, things seemed to go in the same direction of riots past — when right-wing speakers dared to enter the city which was once considered a shining beacon of free speech.
“I think a liberal estimate would be that there were 20 police officers, maybe a dozen, in the park when it began,” journalist Tim Pool, who has covered dozens of riots, explained to Big League Politics. “When antifa arrived, they immediately began stomping over the barrier, and throwing M80s and mortars into the crowd.”
Pool stated that at this point, police backed away to the side of the park. After several minutes of chaos, they moved in and began to separate the groups.
Soon after, Black explained that police immediately began disarming those entering the park, particularly the antifa activists who were in black bloc attire.
— Brian Krans (@citizenkrans) April 15, 2017
“After they were disarmed, police created a physical barricade between them and us,” Black said. He added that anarchists kept attempting to get around the police, but were unsuccessful through much of the event. “Those kids had never ever seen the Berkeley Police stand up to them before. You should have seen their faces.”
Black said that when police reached out to a militant leftist group involved in opposing the free speech rally, By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), who has been previously labeled by the FBI as engaging in possible domestic terrorist activities, they were unwilling to cooperate.
“We were the ones willing to follow the law, we were the ones willing to work with police,” Black said. “When they reached out to BAMN, they refused to cooperate.”
Black believes that BAMN’s refusal to even speak with the police, versus his own eagerness to work alongside them, played a large role in how the police interacted with the two opposing groups.
According to Black, Patriot’s Day had their own security team in place as well, considering the lack of action by the department during previous riots in the city. He explained that the team they had organized consisted of both active and inactive military and off duty police officers from other jurisdictions.
“We have off duty cops on our security team,” Black asserted. “Those officers from other jurisdictions told Berkeley Police that if they didn’t do their job they would do it for them. It added more pressure on the department to do what was necessary to make the event run smoothly.”
Black, for his part, is a little upset that so much of the coverage has focused on the violence instead of the speakers. He described watching Brittany Pettibone, a petite and soft spoken woman, discuss the importance of free speech in a red dress — pushing her way through her points as M80s exploded in the background.
— Brittany Pettibone (@BrittPettibone) April 15, 2017
“It was a success, it’s a shame there isn’t more footage going around of what was happening on the stage. It was something incredible,” Black said. “It was like a scene out of a movie.”
According to Black, the violence only broke out at the tail end of the event, when the Patriot’s Day speakers had concluded. By this point, the anarchists were pushing a dumpster in the direction of the barrier.
The organizers had informed police that the event was about to wrap up, and that their crowd would be evacuating. At this point, Black says, the police were planning to move in on the anarchists while the Patriot’s Day attendees left in the opposite direction.
“Around 20 to 25 riot police began running towards antifa, and that was our signal to evacuate,” Black explained.
Unfortunately, as tensions rose, and security attempted to keep the area secure, an anarchist threw a smoke bomb at the free speech rally crowd. Hilariously, the wind was blowing in their own direction.
Antifa threw a smoke bomb and didn't realize the wind was going their way ????????
— Lauren Southern???? (@Lauren_Southern) April 15, 2017
When the smoke began to pour back at them, the antifa began to run and, according to Black, the pro-free speech crowd decided to charge.
Pool explained that though things seemed contained inside the park, the streets became a warzone.
“At first police were doing a good job keeping the crowd divided, then antifa exited the park and went into the street,” Pool told BLP, “but the police just stayed in the park, so huge fights broke out and there were no police at all.”
When asked by Big League Politics if he believed that police had been ordered to stand down, Pool explained that he has no way of knowing the answer to that, without a statement from the department itself.
“It might have been something as simple as they were ordered to stay in the park, I don’t know,” Pool said, adding, “I’ve never been at an event this contentious, and seen fighting in the streets, but no police.”
While wedgies were handed out by the free speech activists, the anarchists in opposition were now armed with bricks, wine bottles, and mace.
This is the most patriotic wedgie I've ever seen. Good job to all who stood up and defeated Antifa yesterday at Berkeley. We're winning! pic.twitter.com/lEBQRUbSzi
— John doe (@juhhhjgghk) April 16, 2017
As things continued to escalate in the city, and multiple fights broke out, liberal Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer confronted several officers to ask why they were not stopping the brawls that were spreading through the streets.
I tell a police officer I've been seeing people get beat up all day and they haven't been around. "Okay, and?" he says. pic.twitter.com/OuGEcvvb8R
— Shane Bauer (@shane_bauer) April 15, 2017
“Hey, how come you guys are hanging back?” Bauer asked two officers who were outside the commotion.
Seemingly unaware that he was being filmed, an officer sitting in the driver’s seat of his police cruiser shrugged, shook his head, and responded that “would be a good question for the chief of police.”
“I mean, I haven’t seen the cops around and people are beating the shit out of each other,” Bauer asserted.
At this point, a second officer who is standing next to the vehicle asked if Bauer was seeking a public statement, and referred him to the public information officer.
“So, they told you to hang back?” Bauer asks.
“As I said, I’m going to refer you to our public information officer,” the officer tells Bauer. “What’s your next question?”
Asking another officer the same question, Bauer faced another wall, as the officer asserted that he is not “at liberty to discuss my tactics.”
I ask a cop why they've been hanging back as a brawl is happening half a block away in Berkeley. "I'm not at liberty to discuss my tactics." pic.twitter.com/teGEYBV1ho
— Shane Bauer (@shane_bauer) April 15, 2017
Pool, who has covered the riots in Baltimore, Ferguson, and other contentious protests such as Occupy Wall Street, noted that there are stark contrasts between protests where people are opposing government forces, versus ones like Saturday, where they are opposing each other.
“Berkeley had a similar vibe to covering Ferguson, for sure, but in cases like Ferguson it is sort of everyone versus the police,” Pool said. He noted that on Patriot’s Day, there was an observer from the National Lawyers Guild wearing a black mask.
“Someone wearing a mask is opposing the free speech rally,” Pool said of the legal observer. “That is very strange to me, because the NLG is simply supposed to be providing legal observation. When you look at Occupy, Ferguson, Baltimore — the legal observers were there to protect the rights of all individuals.”
Pool, who aims to present a rare objective and unbiased view in his reporting, explained that in this case, where it is a clash of ideologies between civilians instead of a governmental protest, it is very easy to tell which side many of the journalists and legal observers were on.
“There were ‘journalists’ clearly on the side of antifa, who were wearing all black,” he said, noting he uses the term journalists lightly. “You could clearly see where they held their allegiance.”
We reached out to the public information officer of the Berkeley Police Department to confirm whether or not Interim Police Chief Andrew Greenwood had ordered officers to stand down, but had not heard back by publication. This story will be updated if and when they provide us with a comment.