Hey, Trump. Please Keep Berkeley Out of Your Lying Mouth.
Zachary Greenberg punched Hayden Williams, repeatedly. Greenberg was arrested Friday, released on bail and charged with felony assault. He returns to court for arraignment Wednesday. Those are the basics.
Details of the altercation are equally pretty basic.
Greenberg passed by the Turning Point USA recruiting table at Sproul Plaza on the University of California at Berkeley campus on Feb. 19, where Williams was passing out conservative pamphlets. At the table were signs that read, “We support our president,” “This is MAGA country” and “Hate crime hoaxes hurt real victims,” the latter a reference to the Jussie Smollett circus.
Williams, a field representative for the Leadership Institute, who helps “organize and train conservative activists throughout California,” according to information he provided during a post-fight interview, said Greenberg took offense to the “hoaxes” sign and became aggressive. Williams took out his cell phone to record the incident when Greenberg started to act “erratically.” A friend with Greenberg “smacked the phone” out of Williams’ hand but at that point other people nearby were also recording the argument, which is the footage we now see splashed all over YouTube and replayed ad nauseam on conservative news sites.
Supposedly, Greenberg knocked the table over, ripped up some posters, the two guys got into a tug-o-war over what looks like a hoodie and Greenberg punched Williams about three times before walking away. That’s the long and short of it.
It’s not unusual that people on diametrically opposed sides of the ideological line get into heated debates and that those debates sometimes turn to physical altercations. However, if you were paying attention to only right-wing media, you might assume that situations like the Greenberg-Williams debacle are only escalated by left-wing dissent and that UC Berkeley is a operating some shadow fight club to squash all conservative views, neither of which is true, at all.
It is true that the area surrounding UC Berkeley became a magnet for alt-right activists and subsequent opposition to alt-right activists after the 2016 election, a phenomenon worth analyzing. What is not true is that the campus itself encourages that sort of degradation in debate, but facts do not stop right-wing media and their biggest presidential fan from fanning the flames.
The campus implemented several policies to address “political civility” and found those initiatives to be successful in fostering an environment where people can disagree and find safes space to be heard, a fact missing in President Trump’s CPAC speech where he highlighted the some-guy-punched-some-guy story as the antithesis to free speech.
Trump, desperate to get his base all fired up about something, anything, following a failed nuclear summit and resistance to his “national emergency,” seized the opportunity to vilify UC Berkeley yet again and used Williams as a handy prop on the convention stage.
He told the crowd:
“Today, I am proud to announce that I will be very soon signing an executive order requiring colleges and universities to support free speech if they want federal research funds.”
There are more than just a few problems with Trump’s take on this little scuffle. First, neither Williams nor Greenberg were UC Berkeley students. Next, Trump failed to mention that the campus administration issued a strong statement condemning actions Greenberg took. And lastly, the president again proved that he has no clue what the “free speech” protection actually entails.
Let’s review the First Amendment here, just so we’re all on the same page:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Congress did not pass a law prohibiting Williams from speaking his mind. The university did not inhibit Williams from tabling on campus grounds. Greenberg was not an officer of the law. There was no infringement on First Amendment rights to pound chests about. This was an argument and an assault between two private citizens who didn’t agree. Greenberg is not being protected by the campus or any faction of the government and Williams is free to return and try again.
Here we are, one more time, with Berkeley making news on the national stage for no real reason at all except that the president needs to manufacture a wedge issue to soften failures for his base as he digs into his 2020 campaign. There is no nefarious scheme here in Berkeley, but if history is any indicator, Trump will do his best to paint one.
Greenberg is in court, as he should be, but somehow his punch has Berkeley bracing for an onslaught of physical and political attacks and rhetoric reminiscent of the ridiculousness that plagued the city during 2016-2017. Nobody here wants all that, so let’s urge the president to keep Berkeley out of his speeches, at least until he knows what the hell he’s talking about.