By Marshall Lymburn | Opinion Editor

Berkeley police vacate Martin Luther King Jr. Square Park following antagonism from Antifa and Black Blocc. (Marshall Lymburn/COLLEGIAN)

Once again, Berkeley has become home to violence and the suppression of free speech. On Sunday, August 27, a small group of right-wing protesters attending a previously cancelled “No to Marxism in America” rally were dwarfed by thousands who came out to demonstrate against them. On the verge of violent confrontation with the crowd, police vacated the park, and some of those attending the rally were cornered, harassed and heckled.

Much of the violence at Sunday’s counter-protest can be attributed to Black Blocc and Antifa—groups that promote the use of violence against what they see as oppressive ideologies.  Much of this discontent has become louder since the murder of a counter protestor during a right-wing rally earlier in the month at Charlottesville.  Standing in various crowds during the counter-protest, I could see anywhere from dozens, to several hundred black clad, bandana-wearing individuals. A man with a loudspeaker on a truck belted out, “Anyone who does not want to be part of a confrontation should move back towards the city hall steps. You may be at risk.” The police vacated the park shortly after being pelted with smoke grenades and other projectiles.

Although this event was not nearly as disruptive as the demonstrations following a Milo Yiannopoulos speech at Berkeley the previous February, it still sent the message that the left cannot tolerate views they are afraid of. But it’s clearer still that for some, violence has become a necessity. This is a problem. The  line between violence and peaceful demonstration is too willingly crossed, and very rarely is violence more effective than determinetal to one’s cause.

There were many reasons to think that Berkeley’s right-wing gathering, if allowed to go through, would have propagated hate speech. News media leading up to the rally had declared it a white nationalist gathering—regardless of the organizers intentions. This could have attracted nefarious individuals on the right. The gathering was also scheduled to take place in Martin Luther King Jr. Square Park. The intention behind the choice of location is unknown, but one is inclined to suspect the worst.

Still, Black Blocc and Antifa prevented the possibility of us ever knowing what those attending the right wing rally actually believed. It was overwhelmed before anyone could be certain. The means of intimidation and violence used by Antifa were harmful to anyone hoping to peacefully express themselves and anyone else hoping to create a dialogue.

Not every gathering can be conflated with the type of white nationalist thuggery that made national news in Charlottesville. There were reasons to think the right-wing gathering in Berkeley could have been different. For one, the organizer, Amber Cummings, was a transgender woman—a label I find hard to believe would be readily accepted by the kinds of Nazi and Ku Klux Klan members seen in Charlottesville. She also cancelled the rally two days before its scheduled date, fearing for the safety of those who would attend (she insisted that she would attend alone). This behavior does not seem in line with a group dedicated to maximum chaos and intimidation.

Instead of assuming the views of those gathering, we should hear those views before deciding whether or not they are repugnant. The intolerance shown to those who never even got a chance to express themselves before getting chased and shouted down works only to polarize a country that can’t take much more. The left still has a louder voice and moral high ground.  They should use it and treat their own violent elements in the form of Black Blocc and Antifa with as much suspicion as the enemy they face.

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