Cal Poly brought in 109 officers for Yiannopoulos speech for massive protests that didn’t happen

As the sun sets, an officer looks down on the crowd outside Spanos Theatre from a nearby rooftop Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, in advance of Milo Yiannopoulos’ talk at Cal Poly.
As the sun sets, an officer looks down on the crowd outside Spanos Theatre from a nearby rooftop Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, in advance of Milo Yiannopoulos’ talk at Cal Poly. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Cal Poly officials said more than 100 officers from seven law enforcement agencies were brought to the campus Tuesday to provide security in case a massive crowd of unruly protesters showed up during a speech by controversial right-wing agitator Milo Yiannopoulos.

As it turned out, about 150 protesters rallied peacefully at the campus during Yiannopoulos’ appearance, which was a stop on his “Dangerous Faggot” tour to colleges across the country.

The tour has sparked large demonstrations and some arrests at other campuses. On Wednesday, his appearance at UC Berkeley was canceled amid a violent protest and at least one fire.

About half the demonstrators at Cal Poly came for a protest unrelated to the visit by Yiannopoulos, an editor at the right-wing Breitbart website. They marched through campus to protest President Donald Trump’s executive orders since taking office.

Another cluster of protesters loudly chanted outside Spanos Theatre, where Yiannopoulos spoke, burning a Confederate flag and Nazi flag and carrying signs proclaiming “No Trump, no Milo” and “Alt-right = Nazis.”

The 109 officers on campus for the event — some in riot gear and some positioned on rooftops — included 19 Cal Poly police officers, 40 California State University officers, 28 state Department of Corrections officers, 12 San Luis Obispo County Regional SWAT team officers, four San Luis Obispo Police Department bicycle officers, three California Highway Patrol officers and three K-9 officers from State Parks, Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said. The San Luis Obispo City Fire Department also had four people on hand.

Lazier said the University Police Department was still tallying the security costs Wednesday. The university will cover those costs and not charge the Cal Poly College Republicans, which sponsored Yiannopoulos’ appearance, Lazier said, because Cal Poly is responsible for maintaining campus safety and security at large gatherings.

Lazier said about 45 officers who were working behind the scenes or were on standby were not needed because the evening’s events “were relatively peaceful.”

A fence separated waiting ticket holders from the demonstrators at Spanos Theatre before the doors opened. Yiannopoulos spoke to a full house in the 496-seat auditorium, and police escorted attendees out of the building after the talk.

Next door, an event called Unite Cal Poly nearly filled the 1,289-seat Christopher Cohan Center as comedian W. Kamau Bell discussed race, politics and identity. That event was sponsored by the Cal Poly Office of University Diversity and Inclusivity as an alternative to Yiannopoulos.

On Wednesday, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong said the campus demonstrated how differing opinions can be expressed in a “healthy and constructive manner.”

“While we must support freedom of speech, I reject any language intended to hurt or create a sense of unease among our campus community members, divide our university or undermine our ideals,” Armstrong said in a statement to the campus community Wednesday. “For those who were hurt by the language and actions last night and leading up to the event, please know that I support you and value you as members of our university.”

Armstrong added: “I am proud of our campus community for engaging in these events in a relatively peaceful and respectful manner. I am especially proud of those who participated in the Unite Cal Poly event and those who chose to ignore Mr. Yiannopoulos’ speech and divisive language. We demonstrated well how differing thoughts and ideas can be expressed, considered and even opposed in a healthy and constructive manner.”

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