Massive police presence curtails violence at conservative speaker's UC Berkeley event

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It was a mostly non-violent evening, yet barriers remained set up around UC Berkeley's campus Thursday night, where hundreds of demonstrators arrived to protest a speech by conservative commentator and former Breitbart editor, Ben Shapiro.

Police confirmed as many as nine arrests by night's end. Two of them happened in the 5 p.m. hour. One woman, 44-year-old Sarah Roark of San Francisco apparently had a large sign made out of plywood. There were regulations on sign sizes and the materials they could be made of. Signs could not be attached to sticks or other objects that could be used as weapons.

Alameda County Sheriff's considered the woman's sign to be too large. Berkeley Police Department tweeted Roark was arrested for carrying a "banned weapon" and swiftly sent out her booking photo. In fact, the department tweeted five of the nine mug shot photos and the reasons they were arrested.

The other woman, 20-year-old Hannah Benjamin of Fremont, apparently witnessed the arrest of the first woman and allegedly spat on an officer. Police tweeted her booking photo as well and said the arrest was for "battery" of an officer and that she too was carrying a banned weapon.

A third booking photo of a male, Michael Paul Sullivan, 29, of Hayward was tweeted out by Berkeley Police at 9:37 p.m. Police say the arrest was for carrying a banned weapon. He was arrested near Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue.

At a briefing late in the evening, UC Berkeley Police Chief Margo Bennett said at that point, there were four to five arrests.

Earlier, about 20 protesters held an hour-long sit in where they refused to leave a breezeway connecting two buildings. They were eventually released by police to cheers of fellow protesters. 

The university spent an unprecedented $600,000 on security measures, which appears to have mostly paid off. There were some minor incidents, but if anyone was shoved and fell, police were right there to intervene, but the presence alone seemed to be enough to deter violence.

Dozens of Berkeley city police and campus police were at the scene as about 200 people gathered near Sproul Plaza. Those attending were required to show their ID and present their tickets before entering Zellerbach Playhouse for the event titled "Say No to Campus Thuggery." Shapiro was scheduled to speak at 7 p.m., but went on late. 

The heavy security measures for the event, organized by Berkeley College Republicans and Young America's Foundation, was in light of previous protests and counter protests in Berkeley that were characterized as violent and showed clashing protesters armed with sticks, dressed in masks with makeshift shields and other homemade weapons.   

Inside the hall, a few hundred of the one thousand seats remained empty, partly because much of the auditorium was reserved for media, but went unused. Still, Shapiro delivered his speech.

As a conservative Jew, he claimed he isn't a white supremacist and said both extremities of the political spectrum were responsible for "campus thuggery." He added the "left" discriminates against white men, and seemed to be disenfranchised because white privilege doesn't allow them to say as much as "LGBT", "women" and "blacks". 

Not everyone inside agreed with his views and attended to learn more about him. 

Shapiro preached that students on Cal's campus want other points of view and referred to "Birkenstock" wearing "anarchist-communist pieces of garbage". He also said that people should be seen as individuals "made in god's' image" rather than categorized and placed in groups.  

Just before 8 p.m. a large group of demonstrators began to march, according to Berkeley Police. They tweeted that they were monitoring the situation as protesters took the streets. They were headed westbound on Bancroft Way. Motorists were advised to expect traffic delays and interruptions.

The event is being watched as a warm-up act for later this month when provocative, right-wing speaker Milo Yiannopoulos says he plans to hold a "Free Speech Week" on Berkeley's campus with a 20-person lineup that includes Ann Coulter and former Trump administration strategist Stephen Bannon.