Zac Harvill is a junior international studies major.
Last year’s election cycle has undoubtedly contributed to the increase of nationwide demonstrations and protests, which will likely continue throughout the next four years. We can expect protests to be a popular method for people to voice their opinions outside of social media, but there is cause for alarm when violence is used to achieve political change, as seen during recent protests.
A recent incident of political violence in the U.S. occurred in Berkeley on Feb. 1, when groups of students organized to protest the planned speech by Milo Yiannopolous, a British senior editor for the alt-right news website Breitbart. The protest was initially peaceful with a crowd of students chanting and holding up signs behind barricades setup around the event. A stark contrast amongst those in the crowd developed when many violent protesters wearing black clothes and face masks started showing up. The masked protesters have been identified as members of different affiliations such as local Antifa groups, Anarcho-Communists and BAMN (By Any Means Necessary).
The violent protesters successfully shut down Milo’s planned speech after they tore down barricades, set fires and broke the windows of the student union building. As reported by CNN, the damage done to the campus by the violent protesters amounted to $100,000. Several people, including journalists, reported being assaulted. At least two people were hospitalized after being attacked by masked protesters. The damage from the violent protesters put the majority of UC Berkeley student protesters who remained peaceful in a bad light.
There was an article recently published titled “Condemning protesters same as condoning hate speech” in The Daily Californian, the student-run newspaper serving UC Berkeley and the surrounding community, that implies violent protests are preferable to peaceful ones. Although violent protests tend to be more popular in the far-right and far-left, it should be concerning to those who hold more moderate views and attend peaceful protests regularly. This is because political violence committed by one extremist group could lead to a growing appeal for extremist groups on the opposite side of the political spectrum, which leads to more instances of violence. Peaceful protesters should want to prevent members of fringe groups from protesting violently, attracting violent counter protests in response.
An example of this sort of violent counter-protest happened in Sacramento on June 26, 2016, where members of the far-right, white nationalist Traditionalist Workers Party clashed with far-left protesters that also included members of a local Antifa group and BAMN. Police had to shut down the protests, which stopped peaceful demonstrators from protesting, as well. If a protest brings the risk of violence, police will have to shut it down. Because shutting down protests affect all protestors, even the non-violent ones, peaceful protestors should be concerned about their violent counterparts.
For those unfamiliar with Milo Yiannopoulos and the Berkeley protests, it’s difficult to separate the violence and vandalism from the protesters that assembled peacefully. The protest has contributed to a negative image of UC Berkeley. Peaceful protests can be a healthy method of exercising free speech, but once protesters start infringing on the rights of others through physical violence, all credibility is lost. After what happened in Berkeley, these violent tactics should not be praised amongst any political affiliation that want their protests to be seen as respectable.
Photo: JOHN MARTINEZ PAVLIGA/FLICKR