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Berkeley's mayor wants to cancel Free Speech Week. His reason is troubling.

Campus
The mayor of Berkeley, California, wants the University of California at Berkeley to cancel the conservative "Free Speech Week" due to concerns about violent protests. (Amy Osborne/AFP/Getty Images)

The Story

Mayor Jesse Arreguin of Berkeley, California, is calling on the University of California, Berkeley to cancel Free Speech Week after recent incidents of conservative demonstrators being attacked by Antifa members around the city, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The campus group, called the Berkeley Patriot, plans to host author Milo Yiannopoulos during Free Speech Week, which is scheduled for September 24-27. Yiannopoulos' last appearance at Cal-Berkeley was cancelled because of violent protests. The group is reportedly attempting to book former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and commentator Ann Coulter as well.

"I don't want Berkeley being used as a punching bag," Arreguin said Monday. "I am concerned about these groups using large protests to create mayhem. It's something we have seen in Oakland and in Berkeley."

Background

Berkeley has become a battleground for free speech conflicts this year, with members of the alt-right and Antifa meeting repeatedly in volatile and dangerous conflicts. This past weekend, the two groups fought at an anti-Marxist rally, and 13 people were arrested.

"Frankly, I think the citizens of Berkeley are tired," Arreguin said to KTVU. "As much as we stand for freedom of speech, we're tired of us being the focal point of these extremist groups clashing.... we've facilitated demonstrations for decades, protesting and free speech is part of our DNA but my concern is when we know an event could potentially result in violence."

Issues at stake

The mayor of the city has an obligation to foster and maintain a safe environment for his citizens, and he has determined that the violence from these protests and counter-protests are no longer worth the threat to public safety that they pose.

Still, constitutionalists will likely be disturbed by a government official urging a public institution and the citizens of Berkeley to cancel an event celebrating the freedom of speech, especially when the reason is that violent protestors are seeking to eliminate a type of speech they disagree with by force.

A spokesman for UC Berkeley told KTVU that the event cannot be preemptively shut down based on the mayor's concerns.

"If the law is broken in the course of the event we will react immediately and appropriately, but we can't, based on a generalized concern, shut down speech before it occurs," UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said. "The law and the Supreme Court have been absolutely clear on that front."

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