After weeks of anticipation and lead up to an event some have heralded as “the free speech moment of the 21st century,” conservative commentator Ben Shapiro successfully spoke at UC Berkeley without extreme rioting or violence. The cost, however, was approximately $600,000 in security fees.
Concrete barriers lined the campus. Police were dressed in riot gear and armed with tear gas, which they were authorized by the City Council to use for the first time in two decades.
The university blocked off five buildings surrounding Zellerbach Hall, where the speech took place. In fact, law enforcement from all nine Bay Area counties had officers participating in the security measures.
Tickets were required for attendance and attendees had to pass through metal detectors to get inside Zellerbach Hall. Half the seats remained empty due to a “security assessment” prohibiting the use of the auditorium’s balcony. Extra security fees were lobbed on the sponsoring student group.
Tensions ran high as those concerned with free speech watched from around the world. The San Francisco Chronicle called the security measures “extraordinary.”
Inside the event hall, Shapiro masterfully articulated the dangers of identity politics and reactionary violence. The Q&A session was smart, witty, and sharp. Students of all political persuasions engaged in meaningful dialogue on free speech and pressed Shapiro on abortion, sexism, and other hot-button issues.
Shapiro noted just how out-of-hand snowflake culture has become. Only 18 months ago, Shapiro spoke at UC Berkeley and only needed two security guards.
Just off campus, however, students marched, chanted, and held “sit-ins.” Community members joined in a Refuse Fascism rally. While hundreds protested, only nine arrests were made in total.
“For the most part it was an orderly event, attended by respectful orderly people,” Margo Bennett, of the university police, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
If only university systems had made a commitment to protecting free speech all along. Maybe things wouldn’t have gotten so chaotic, requiring such a remarkable and unprecedented show of support to enforce the law and protect speech.
UC Berkeley spent $600,000 on security fees to put the genie back in the bottle. Only time will tell if that is possible. In just a little over a week, Milo Yiannopoulos will host his “Free Speech Week” at UC Berkeley with Steve Bannon, Ann Coulter, and other right-wing personalities.