Violence escalates around Berkeley rally

As violence escalates, police are advising the public to avoid the area around the “No to Marxism” rally at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.

Anyone in the park itself should leave immediately, police said.

A group of people surrounded a man and beat him to the ground. About two dozen police officers intervened and carried the man to safety.

Police said in an advisory message:

“Avoid area bounded by (Martin Luther King Jr. Way), Allston Avenue, Milvia Avenue and Addison Street. If near Civic Center Park, leave immediately. … There are large crowds converging on Civic Center Park in downtown Berkeley. Tensions between protesters and counter-protesters are escalating.”

The number of arrests has grown to 10, according to police.

A person dressed in black, with a black face mask and black helmet — hallmarks of the infamous Black Bloc, which advocates violence — grabbed at least one attendee’s camera and destroyed it.

Among other outbreaks, a fistfight took place between two people on Martin Luther King Jr. Way near Allston Avenue.

In one incident observed by a Bay City News Service reporter, a man was chased out of the park and trapped against the wall at a gas station a few blocks away by a group of 35-50 people.

The man was heard saying, “I don’t hate blacks, I don’t hate Jews,” as the group of people screamed at him.

In the wake of the chase, an attendee at the park was seen tearing up a Trump/Pence flag.

Police have been checking people as they arrive at the park for items that could be used as weapons, but a group of people jumped the barricades set up by law enforcement and entered without being checked.

Amber Cummings, the organizer of the event, was denied a permit for the event last week but pressed ahead with the event. She said she would attend, and asked others not to do so.

Earlier Sunday, clapping, cheering and carrying signs such as “Black Lives Matter,” “Quakers for Peace” and one tongue-in-cheek, “Say Yes to Groucho Marxism,” attendees at the “Rally Against Hate” participated in a large counter-protest in downtown Berkeley.

The latter sign was a reference to the “No to Marxism Rally.” Cummings, the organizer, had said she does not support white nationalism or violence, though police Sunday noted that prior unpermitted demonstrations in the park have resulted in violence in the recent past.

Heidi Rand, an El Cerrito resident reached by telephone at the “Rally Against Hate,” said she initially went to the eastern end of the Crescent Lawn area at the western edge of the UC Berkeley campus, but she and the crowd then moved to Addison and Oxford nearby.

Carlos Rivera, a spokesman for SEIU Local 1021, one of the organizations that is putting on the event, was also reached by telephone at the rally:

“It’s very peaceful. … In true Berkeley fashion, people are playing instruments and people are dancing.”

Earlier at the rally, people were chanting “Black Lives Matter,” Rivera said.

At present the organizers of the event are giving speeches from a flatbed truck, Rivera said.

A wide coalition of organizations organized the rally. In addition to Rivera’s union, some of them include the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists Social Justice Committee, the Muslim Student Association – UC Berkeley, the Alameda County Labor Council and the Berkeley Federation of Teachers.

Cummings has issued a stream of Facebook posts regarding the Civic Center Park rally she has organized, “No to Marxism Rally”:

“We stand with you against racism, fascism, and loathe [sic] white supremacy. … We will liberate your city, we promise this to you. We stand with you against Neo Nazis, KKK, and Antifa. All forms of hatred we want out of Berkeley and anywhere in the U.S.”