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Charlie Kirk event at UC Davis prompts violent protest
A speaking engagement by conservative commentator Charlie Kirk on March 14 was met with violent protests at University of California, Davis, with some protesters shattering windows and breaking down the doors of the event venue. To UC Davis’ credit, the show went on, even after local police arrested two of the protesters for vandalizing a campus building.
The decision by the student group Turning Point USA to host Kirk faced heavy criticism in the days leading up to the event. UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May released a statement affirming the First Amendment rights of TPUSA to host Kirk, while also criticizing Kirk’s prior campus visits, saying that “UC Davis stands with our transgender and non-binary Aggies in opposition to this hateful and divisive messaging.”
In the run up to the event, Kirk posted a point-by-point video response, challenging May’s characterizations.
“We’re gonna be there. We’re gonna be peaceful,” Kirk concluded. “Like Turning Point always is.”
The appearance ultimately drew hundreds of protesters seemingly comprised of a mix of students and non-students. CBS Sacramento reported that some protesters reportedly used pepper spray in an attempt to keep would-be audience members out of the building.
UC Davis released a statement after the event saying an officer suffered injuries in a clash between protesters and police.
After the event, Kirk took to Twitter to praise TPUSA chapter leaders and law enforcement for ensuring the event could proceed.
The week before the event, UC Davis student group #CopsOffCampus distributed flyers advertising the planned protest of Kirk’s appearance. The group is open about its doubts regarding the fruitfulness of dialoguing: “UC Davis Cops Off Campus is committed to direct action; we are not interested in conversations with administrators who at any moment can call upon campus police to defend their positions.”
UC Davis handled this dicey situation admirably. Chancellor May affirmed student rights while countering with his own speech, the exact formula FIRE recommends.
The lack of interest in engaging with administration and the calls for “direct action” are discouraging for those who believe that the best way to counter speech one despises is with more speech. Unfortunately, from COC’s point of view, “Discussion with those in power will always be a dead end because no matter how thoughtful our arguments or how detailed our proposals, our enemies will never find us reasonable.” While certainly within their rights to organize and voice this opinion, COC’s pessimism regarding engaging ideological opponents takes on an illiberal tone.
Stanford Law students shout down 5th Circuit judge: A post-mortem
Students at Stanford Law School disrupted a student-organized event featuring a federal appellate judge.
Last week’s event came on the heels of the recent shout-down of Judge Kyle Duncan during his scheduled remarks to Stanford Law’s Federalist Society. As we said in that case, a heckler’s veto is not protected speech. Of course, that’s true for violent protest and property damage as well.
FIRE’s Zach Greenberg expounded on the role of a public university in addressing attempts to disrupt speech that could lead to violence in writing about the 1970 case of Jones v. Board of Regents. In that case, the University of Arizona infringed on the free speech rights of a student by preventing him from distributing anti-war handbills on campus. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down the ban, writing “we cannot assume that the campus police will not hereafter afford to Jones the same protection against violent or other unlawful acts as would be afforded to any other individual lawfully exercising his constitutional rights upon the public areas of the Tucson campus.”
As Greenberg wrote, “The court stated the public university’s goal should have been ‘to prevent the infringement of [the student’s] constitutional right by those bent on stifling, even by violence, the peaceful expression of ideas or views with which they disagreed.’”
UC Davis handled this dicey situation admirably. Chancellor May affirmed student rights while countering with his own speech, the exact formula FIRE recommends. Violent protestors were removed from campus, and Kirk was able to deliver his remarks.
FIRE defends the rights of students and faculty members — no matter their views — at public and private universities and colleges in the United States. If you are a student or a faculty member facing investigation or punishment for your speech, submit your case to FIRE today. If you’re a faculty member at a public college or university, call the Faculty Legal Defense Fund 24-hour hotline at 254-500-FLDF (3533). If you’re a college journalist facing censorship or a media law question, call the Student Press Freedom Initiative 24-hour hotline at 717-734-SPFI (7734).
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