Berkeley, round three, fight! I arrived around noon with my videographer at MLK Park where the Patriot's Day free speech rally was taking place. Initially, the park was separated, right down the middle like some kind of crude DMZ. Berkeley police setup a perimeter of orange plastic construction barricades and established entry points, where they searched personal before entering, the city having banned certain items specifically for this gathering. I wish I was kidding, but the list included everything from flag poles to eggs. Yes, eggs.
Initially we got footage of speakers at the rally, Lauren Southern happened to be at the mic when we arrived and we took the opportunity shoot some video. The area was a hot bed of youtube sensations and stars, drawing the likes of the previously mentioned, Vaughn Neville, Brittany Pettibone and the infamous Kyle Chapman aka Based Stick Man. We made our way past the security group guarding the perimeter and went into the dog pit, the free for all zone of the park that let people exchange ideas, thoughts and clever signs from their sides of the barrier.
Everybody seemed to stay on their sides and simply argue back and forth, exchanging cuss words and even a strange agreement between two people on musical taste, citing they both had a common ground of liking the old Metallica albums, not the new ones. The strange part, one could easily walk to the edges of these barriers and cross freely between sides, yet everybody remained divided. None of this mattered moments later anyways, as the left side led by the “antifa” group began flooding to the streets. They started throwing cans of Pepsi products, fireworks and pepper spraying people. I caught a can of soda hurled at me right in the upper thigh area, just shy of precious areas, but honestly it was just a minor, petty inconveniences. Perhaps the latest advertisement campaign by Pepsi didn’t take well?
“Antifa” and their posse circled the park, looking for points to breach the perimeter, but the group inside the park defended territory. “Hold the line!” was a constant battle cry, the park transformed into a battleground as Berkeley police retreated. The “black bloc” group grabbed a dumpster and started pushing it around, towards the members of the Patriot's Day free speech rally in the park then proceeded to flip over trash bins and light fire to the trash inside, I guess it kind of sends a message? Or just makes you look like an idiot, who knows.
The entire event flowed into the streets afterwards, fierce lines being drawn and scuffles between the groups erupted. The police just sat back and didn’t do a whole lot of anything aside from arresting people on the down low, but I imagine they had yet another stand down order. It’s pretty bad when a riot is breaking out and nothing is being done by those sworn to protect. I have respect for the police but this is a common occurrence in Berkeley. There was an extensive use of fireworks, mostly M-80s and other items being thrown around, including several bagels. I saw one firework hurl past my face and ignite a bush, and later one exploded right in front of me. No harm done, beside a small burn mark in my shirt. The situation was degrading by the minute and several reporters were wearing combat helmets to protect themselves in the Berkeley war zone.
After “antifa” decided to throw a smoke bomb, and severely underestimated the effects of wind and direction, they were pushed back a few blocks up the street and forcibly removed from the area around the park. A massive failure on their part to do something as simple as guess wind direction, but we’re not talking about rocket scientists here. The incompetent decision was capitalized on by the Patriot's Day participants as a charge ensued up the street, smashing through fences, pepper spray and face masks. Traffic was still flowing, in a sense, but the police department blocked the lanes so people could stand in an intersection and heckle each other. Eggs were thrown, bubble machines were broken and at one point a dance off was in the making. My videographer thought this was a great time to get refreshments, so we walked away briefly to find water. In doing so, I came across a man who had been stabbed in the stomach by the “antifa” crowd and was in the process of being loaded into an ambulance. He shot me a quick thumbs up, clearly not fazed, we got Gatorade and continued to document this crazy day.
Everything started to fizzle out shortly after this, the most exciting thing was the police moving tactically to clear the streets and restore some sense of order to transportation, even with the Bart station being shut down due to “civil unrest” as it is put officially. The majority of the groups dispersed, some headed back to the park to hang out and talk while others lingered around the Bart station and continued to exchange kindly worded ideas. One particular lady, who has been present at the last Berkeley battle, sat slumped over on the sidelines, heckling people on her little toys r us looking megaphone as people went by. The streets were fairly quiet once again, the smoke cleared and just a few lingered. I took the time to photograph some graffiti left by "antifa" before heading out, apparently they want to kill the rich and don't like school.