University of California, Berkeley police took a hands-off approach to protesters on the campus last week when violent rioters caused chaos when they overtook a largely peaceful protest against a gay conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos.
Last week’s protest featured “Black Bloc” tactics employed by mask-wearing protesters dressed head-to-toe in dark clothing and using crude weapons to vandalize property.
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While officers largely stood to the side, about 150 people labeled “agitators” by Berkeley police used metal rods, Molotov cocktails and commercial-grade fireworks to overwhelm police and smash bank branch and storefront windows in downtown Berkeley.
The event was canceled while the speaker was evacuated from campus in a bullet-proof jacket.
Only one person was arrested in the mayhem that injured six people — prompting criticism of training for campus police at the entire University of California system that emphasizes officer restraint and patience during protests in the name of protecting students’ free speech rights.
“The UC ‘hands-off’ approach was to the citizens’ detriment and the officers’ detriment in this situation,” said John Bakhit, a lawyer for the union representing about 400 of the system’s police officers.
Officers should have been given more discretion to prevent the vandalism and violence and make arrests at the Berkeley protest, Bakhit said.
“The frustrating thing for the police officers is that they weren’t allowed to do their jobs,” he said.
Berkeley Police Sgt. Sabrina Reich defended the response, saying officers feared increased violence and more serious injuries if the violence escalated accompanied by a heavier-handed police response. Investigators are reviewing extensive video taken during the protest and more arrests are possible, she said.
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