Berkeley defends police passivity during anti-free speech riot
- The University of California, Berkeley’s Chancellor and chief of police both refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing, or even mistakes, in their response to last week’s riots on campus.
- Chancellor Nicholas Dirks even claimed that Berkeley's reputation as a bastion for free speech hasn't been "tarnished at all," blaming "political agendas" for driving inaccurate coverage of the riot.
- Police Chief Margo Bennett also defended her decision not to have officers engage with the vandals, saying that any response by police would only have "escalated" the confrontation.
The University of California, Berkeley’s Chancellor and chief of police both refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing, or even mistakes, in their response to last week’s riots on campus.
In a recent interview with KQED News, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks defended his school’s response to the violent riots, arguing that they in no way hurt the prestigious university’s reputation of protecting First Amendment rights on campus.
“I don’t think we’ve been tarnished at all. In fact, I have been hearing from people across the country that we have indeed honored our tradition and that we have been exemplary in terms of our commitment to freedom of speech,” Dirks explained, criticizing “representations of what happened here” that he feels disregarded or misrepresented the facts to portray Berkeley as a hostile environment for free speech.
“There are lots of representations of what happened here that I think are being driven by political agendas that have no particular regard for the evidence that is part of this or any of the facts or truth that surrounds it,” he asserted.
Dirks also addressed President Trump’s threat to strip funds from the institution for its alleged failure to cultivate a culture of free speech, calling the presidential reaction “ill-informed” and criticizing Trump for relying on “television or perhaps even Breitbart” as news sources.
“It seems to have been ill-informed,” Dirks remarked. “I mean, it’s fairly well-established that some of the tweets that come out of the white house these days are based on things seen on certain kinds of news sources, whether television or perhaps even Breitbart, and I don’t think the real news got out.”
Throughout the interview, both Dirks and UC Berkeley Police Department Chief Margo Bennett refused to place any blame on the school for “not doing enough to enable the speech to happen,” nor for preventing rioters from forcing its cancellation.
“We had tracked the previous appearances at [UC] Davis and the University of Washington. The black bloc weren’t there,” Dirks argued, referring to the professional protest group that allegedly helped shut down the event. “We had done everything we could do. We’re a university. We’re not the National Guard.”
Bennett then defended the apparent passivity of her officers during the riot, insisting that confronting the vandals would only have made the situation more volatile.
“I don’t think so, I mean certainly we can be criticized for a lot of things,” Bennett said in response to whether or not she had made any errors in judgement. “I don’t believe it was the wrong thing, because had we gone out there, two things would have happened: The black bloc group would have gotten energized by our presence, and number two they would have turned around and started attacking our police, which means our use of force would have escalated. I believe we made the right decision.”
In a series of op-eds published by The Daily Californian in the aftermath of the riot, however, numerous Berkeley students take umbrage at the suggestion that outside protest groups were responsible, proudly declaring that those hiding their faces behind masks that night were, in fact, members of the school community.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AGockowski