There's an old saying that a woman cannot be "partially pregnant". Either she is, or she isn't. I'm not sure it's impossible to have a "partially peaceful protest", but at the very least it is obvious that a few well-positioned agitators can, if they choose, subvert the peaceful desires of the majority and make a nonviolent protest violent.
When Milo's speech was announced at Berkeley, I took the boring position of agreeing with Chancellor Dirks' statement more-or-less down the line: It is true that, upon invitation by a legitimate college organization Milo had the right to speak and Berkeley had no authority to block him. It is also true that the decision by the Berkeley College Republicans to invite him speaks volumes about their character as an organization, and they can rightfully be condemned for their choice.
As many of you know, Milo's speech was eventually canceled as the protest turned violent -- apparently at the instigation of a small group of "black bloc" anarchists who were filmed attacking police, property, and bystanders. It is unclear at this point how many of this cadre are themselves Berkeley students -- they may be, but it is also the case that the East Bay has a significant "homegrown" anarchist set which is well aware that it can get a lot more attention for its antics if it performs them on our campus. "Unclear" means "unclear": it may be that most of the violent actors were Berkeley students, it may be that virtually none of them were. But there is little controversy that most of the people protesting were not violent nor were they interested in utilizing violence. It is also very clear that the violence was not only against property; while I don't think that in of itself should matter, I have seen some smarmy posts that have ignored the interpersonal elements of the "black bloc" attacks.
It shouldn't surprise you that I am deeply opposed to the violent silencing that went on here. Yet I think it is worth unpacking exactly who was silenced here. Milo was, certainly, and that was wrong -- even though he's a repulsive little troll who never should have been invited in the first place. But it's also the case that the majority of protesters had a message they wish to express that was also violently erased. Violent protests and non-violent protests express different messages; here, the few who imposed the former subverted the speech of the latter. To act as if the former and the latter were simply one indistinct entity -- the "protest" -- is to give a violent minority an authority and authenticity they do not deserve. And to speak as if the only "victim" of the violence last night was Milo or those who wanted to hear him speak is to facilitate the very deliberate erasure that the "black bloc" -- and the right-wing media, for that matter -- wishes to impose upon the majority.
The fact of the matter is that there were three speeches scheduled at Berkeley last night. One was by a racist, misogynist, hateful right-wing troll. One was by a group of bandana-clad rabble-rousers who wanted to (in the words of their banner) "become ungovernable" through violent suppression. And one was by a community resolved to peacefully tell the first speaker that his views were not welcome at Berkeley.
The last one was the one with majority support. But the middle one was the only one we ended up hearing.