Berkeley police are being criticized for the way they handled a handful of violent incidents at otherwise peaceful demonstrations Sunday.
Thousands of people marched, danced and expressed their opposition to an ultra-right rally that was expected to attract white supremacists but was canceled. Later in the day, despite hundreds of police officers working in the city, groups of counterprotesters threatened and at times attacked the few far-right demonstrators who actually showed up.
The Berkeley Police Department reported 13 people were arrested on charges that included assault with a deadly weapon and felony assault. One law officer and six civilians were injured, with two of them taken to local hospitals for treatment.
"There were people that were injured and that's not acceptable," said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin. "But I think you've got to put it into context. You had roughly 7,000 people that were protesting that day."
Police tactics during Sunday's protest will be scrutinized in the coming weeks, as city officials gear up for potentially violent reactions to conservative speakers who may appear at UC Berkeley in September.
Arreguin said the police department is reviewing its handling of events on Sunday, and Interim Police Chief Andrew Greenwood is expected to report their findings sometime soon.
Berkeley police did not respond to KQED's requests for comment, but we will continue to press them for answers.
For days now on Twitter and other social media, people have slammed the department for not doing enough to protect the far-right demonstrators.
The violence occurred shortly after 1 p.m. when a crowd of black-clad, so-called anti-fascist protesters, carrying a cloth banner with the words “Revenge for Charlottesville,” amassed on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The city has not released official figures on how many people were in that crowd, but eyewitnesses estimate roughly 200.
One organizer announced they were forming “a defensive line” and asked people who didn’t want to participate to move away.
They advanced toward a police perimeter around Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. After a few minutes, officers stepped aside -- a decision made by the police chief.
Counterprotesters cheered, climbing over cement and plastic barricades, chanting, “Whose Park? Our Park!” One person shimmied up the Civic Center flag pole.
“The police did pull back,” Arreguin said. “But I think that was a strategic decision … to de-escalate the situation.”
Chief Greenwood believed that police confronting the hundreds of black-clad demonstrators would have sparked more violence, and imperiled peaceful protesters who were also gathered there, said Arreguin.
"A lot more people could have been hurt, and they weren't hurt because of the way that police handled the situation," said Arreguin. He added that by then officers had already escorted a number of far-right protesters -- if not all -- out of the park.
Greenwood told the Associated Press that there was “no need for a confrontation over a grass patch."
Critics Question 'De-escalation' Tactic
Earlier in the day, police had sealed off the park and were searching people entering for poles, shields, face masks, pepper spray and other items that could be used as weapons and were banned from the location by a city ordinance. When skirmishes broke out, police intervened and removed at least six people from the park.
But after police relinquished control of the park, counterprotesters assaulted at least five fringe-right demonstrators in the area, with law enforcement officers eventually intervening in some cases by shooting teargas and smoke bombs at the crowd.
"You know we need to protect the public, whether we like them or not, whether we like their political agenda or not," said Tony Ribera, a former San Francisco police chief and director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of San Francisco.
Ribera believes police did the best they could in a difficult situation but questioned why they abandoned a seemingly good plan they had to keep the peace. "Particularly when you have adequate manpower," Ribera said, referring to an estimated 400 law enforcement officers from Berkeley and other agencies working that day in the city.
KQED reporter Sandhya Dirks saw Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson enter the park with a small group of supporters around 1:30 p.m.
Gibson, who had organized and then canceled Saturday's far-right "Free Speech" rally in San Francisco, walked right up into the center of the park. Here's Dirks' account:
Gibson had his hands up in the air and his chest thrust out. Some in the crowd responded — they knew who he was — and they chased after him as he ran out of the park — throwing water bottles at him. Someone even sprayed something on his face. The crowd began to run towards him and those with him. He got back behind a barricade line police officers had made with their bodies on the side street. But the crowd kept following some of the others with him. I saw them descend on this one guy — around five people surrounded him, punching him, kicking him. He was on the ground. I could see someone lift a giant long stick — a flag pole, I think. That’s when I saw a familiar-looking guy — who I later realized was Al Letson, the host of Reveal -- jump in the middle of the crowd. Then other people stepped in to stop it.
Reporter Julie Small witnessed a crowd harassing Arthur Schaper, a Trump supporter, as he attempted to leave the protest:
One man snatched his red Make America Great Again hat. Another man snatched the banner he'd draped over his shoulders.
When Schaper ran to a gas station on University Avenue, a crowd surrounded him, screaming obscenities and telling him: “Get out!”
“I can’t get out,” Schaper replied at one point. “I’ve been attacked and I’m not getting protected and I don’t know why!”
The confrontation lasted several minutes.
When a police officer arrived and asked Schaper if he needed medical attention, the crowd let him leave.
KQED reporter and host John Sepulvado witnessed some of the masked protesters -- as many as 30 at a time -- harass peaceful fringe-right protesters, along with journalists. Here's his description of what he saw:
One photographer was chased down Center Street, as a woman dressed in black swung a wooden stick at him. Ultimately, another masked man attacked him, and began punching his face. Soon, there were about 10 masked attackers, punching and kicking the man, while trying to wrestle his camera from him.
“Put the camera down!” a masked man yelled while a group took turns kicking the man, his face bleeding, his body twitching on the pavement.
Law enforcement officers, no more than 100 feet away, watched without intervening. Ultimately a group of onlookers intervened. The attackers ran off with the camera, with witnesses calling for police to help move the man from the street.
John Sepulvado, Sandhya Dirks, Devin Katayama and Alyssa Jeong Perry contributed to this report.