Live coverage: Punches thrown at Berkeley rally, police break up fight

Updated 12:36 pm, Sunday, August 27, 2017

Here’s the latest coverage from Berkeley, where hundreds of demonstrators have converged at several locations to rally against hate and to oppose a far-right demonstration planned for Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park:

12:04 p.m. First physical altercation: Two men briefly exchanged blows and were quickly swept up by officers inside Civic Center Park. One man was a counterprotester and the other was part of the smaller — but more vocal — group of right-wing demonstrators. Police had no tolerance for any skirmishes and were quick to swoop in and evict any perceived agitators from the park.

As the conflicts continued, Theo Shear of Oakland held up one end of a white bed sheet painted with the phrase “Resist like its 1933.”

The 25-year-old’s grandparents lived in Nazi Germany and didn’t do anything to protest Hitler’s rise to power, he said. He came with his brother-in-law, Jesse Simons, to demonstrate against the group, which he equated with recent white-supremacist rallies around the country.

“You have to live and learn,” he said. “I wouldn’t be comfortable having Nazis in my hometown. A lot of people here are angry. There are so many feelings and it is hard to know what to do. You don’t want to promote violence but you have to show you are against intolerance.”

11:47 a.m. Demonstrators detained, booted: Police at Civic Center Park detained at least two people wearing masks and removed them from the park. A couple hundred people — the vast majority anti-hate demonstrators have filled the park. Many of the anti-hate group choked the entrances to the park, as they waited to get by security checkpoints. Police searched every backpack and bag for contraband items, like knives, sticks, masks, water bottles and mace.

Near the square’s fountain, a man in a red “Make America Great Again” hat held up a poster with Trump’s face printed on it. A counter-protester pantomimed punching the photo in the face.

“No Trump, no KKK, no racist USA,” counter demonstrators chanted.

Someone blared a kazoo. A dozen police officers stood in the nucleus of the cluster waiting to pull any troublemakers out.

Nearby, Marie Kalb of Oakland sat on the fountain watching the action. She raised a sign over her head decrying hate.

“When people start marching in the street with actual swastikas and the president can’t be bothered to condemn them without a teleprompter, that’s a line for me,” she said. “It’s not enough to sit at home and eat sheet cake. You have to come out.”

11:32 a.m. No-hate rally: Hundreds of mostly local residents have converged at Ohlone Park in Berkeley to oppose hate speech, racism and white supremacy. Many are carrying signs reading “Berkeley stands united against hate,” “Queers against hate” and “End white supremacy.” Others are handing out “no hate” shields.

Jeff Conant, 50, of Berkeley, who was with the group that helped organize the anti-hate rally, said: “It’s important for people to show up and make it unacceptable for right-wing white supremacists to spew hate and incite violence.” The group behind the rally is called Showing Up For Racial Justice.

10:54 a.m. Shouting matches: A handful of right-wing demonstrators and nearly two dozen counter-protesters have begun squaring off in one-on-one verbal confrontations.

Police broke up a heated verbal altercation between a man wearing a red “Make America Great Again” and another man who was in his face. The two men were surrounded by members of the media and citizens recording the spat on cameras and smart phones.

Arthur Schaller of Torrance (Los Angeles County) stood in the fray with a white Trump flag around his shoulders. He handed out businesses cards printed with the American flag.

“This is a movement bigger than Joey Gibson,” he said, referencing the organizer behind a planned rally the day before in San Francisco. “This state is a beautiful state. We just have bad people running it. We need to expose that hatred in the left. All I want is for liberals and Trump supporters to show up and talk today.”

Nearby, a group gathered in front of the post office with signs.

“Free speech does not equal hate speech,” one sign said.

“Trump must resign,” another read.

From across the street, residents working out at the YMCA ogled out its windows at the crowd.

10:30 a.m. ‘Not a Klansman’: Jordan Davis, 25, was one of the first in the park. He walked around wearing a blue Trump flag draped around his shoulders. The Bay Area native, who declined to say which city he’s from, said he wasn’t expecting violence but that it was a “risk you have to be willing to take to attend these rallies.”

“What’s more important is to dispel the myth that it’s all KKK here,” he said. “Obviously I am not a Klansman. They’re trying to lump Trump supporters in with a group that is pretty much nonexistent. We are hopeful for an open, obvious dialogue.”

Davis posed for a few photos with various news crews, who outnumbered the rally goers.

At one point, he looked around to make sure no one was watching and ripped down a “Bay Area Stands Against Hate” sign. He hung a “Blue Lives Matter” flag with the poster’s used tape, then ripped the anti-hatred sign into pieces, flinging it into confetti on the ground.

10:05 a.m. Police brace for trouble: Berkeley police officers in riot gear are searching bags and prepared to confiscate banned items of people filing into the park. Two people showed up wearing pro-Trump items. No counterprotesters appeared to be in the park. Some residents were there to see what was going on.

At least two police helicopters are circling overhead. White cement barricades line the perimeter of the park, and the streets surrounding City Hall are shut down.

On the sidewalks, residents have written messages like “Love trumps hate” and “Remember Heather” — referencing Heather Heyer, the young woman struck and killed by a driver during a counter-white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

A massive red sign has been strung between two trees in the middle of the park reading, “Bay Area stands against hate and white supremacy.”


7:50 a.m. Getting ready: Barricades are set up in Civic Center Park in preparation for demonstrations. But officials are hoping that whatever happens Sunday in Berkeley mirrors whatever happened — or largely didn’t happen — at a right-wing rally on Saturday in San Francisco.

Exactly who’s showing up for the “No to Marxism in America” rally isn’t known. The organizer said that she had called the event off, but that may or may not mean much.

Police are preparing for possible clashes and some building windows are boarded up.

The Berkeley event comes a day after thousands of counterprotesters peacefully took to the streets of San Francisco to defy a right-wing rally that failed to materialize.

At Civic Center Park in Berkeley, police with bomb-sniffing dogs were checking the grounds early Sunday while a counter-protest group hung a huge red sign that said “Bay Area Stands Against Hate and White Supremacy.”

Amber Cummings, the organizer of the Berkeley right-wing rally, announced Friday that she was asking supporters to stay away because the planned rally had “lost its meaning,” but that she would show up herself and “stand alone in the park.”

Joey Gibson, the organizer of the right-wing Patriot Prayer group that failed to muster much of a presence on Saturday in San Francisco, said he would be “dropping in an out of downtown Berkeley all day in hopes of talking to normal people.”

Counterprotesters said they would conduct a Rally Against Hate at 10:30 a.m. at the western entrance to the UC Berkeley campus, several blocks east of where the right-wing rally was scheduled.

Police in Berkeley, the home of the Free Speech Movement, said they would not allow participants at Civic Center Park to cover their faces and banned many items including baseball bats and skateboards.

Steve Rubenstein is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected]


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