Outside the Free Speech Cage

From Work Without Dread:

As far as I know, no UC Chancellor has unilaterally declared his or her concern for the treatment of protesters. No police scandal should be necessary for such a declaration. After the botched police breakup of the Wheeler Hall occupation on November 20, 2009, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau of UC Berkeley “truly regret(ted) the incidents that brought physical and emotional injury to members of our community” and initiated a review of police actions. He did not characterize the kinds of incidents and agents that brought on this injury, however, nor say who was injured. He leaves open the possibility that protesters themselves were on both sides of the injury line, while leaving the dynamic of the events undescribed. Of course it’s often the intention of protesters to provoke somebody. But the provocation of protesters is referenced by UC officials again and again while their interlocutors, and the history of their exchanges, at best remain tactfully faceless and at worst are erased from existence. As we know, the concentric circles created by the campus/community wall and repeated by the designation of special zones within the campus work against protesters and never for them (paralleling in this way the Student Code of Conduct). Further, each constructed circle relieves the University of more of its responsibility even as it places additional restrictions on protesters. It protects “normal operations” from free speech that counts as unsafe without defending free speakers from police harassment within the “normal” sphere–or from attack in the community, where they are subject to violent racist threats. While the University worries about the safety of policemen, it seems to lose no sleep on violence against its students. It relieves itself of the responsibility to criticize what happens off-campus—even if it happens next door, like the so-called “Compton Cookout”–or with private money, like the Sarah Palin banquet at Cal State Stanislaus or the racist UCSD “humor” magazine The Koala. It implies that policemen are entitled to break students’ fingers with batons and point loaded guns at them when students are not within the “place, time, and manner” restrictions. These restrictions are restrictions on civility, but in one direction only. And they are so egregious that they must damage our confidence, not only in democracy, but in any public safety that would merit the term “public.”

Read more here.


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