If you have been following our Newsdesk or social media accounts, you’ve probably seen our coverage of the recent protest that turned violent at the University of California, Berkeley. That violence reportedly caused $100,000 in property damage and multiple injuries, leading to the cancellation of Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos’ scheduled talk. Before the event, we commended UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks for his refusal to bow to pressure to preemptively cancel Yiannopoulos’ talk. After the protest, FIRE firmly maintained that the violent suppression of constitutionally protected speech is an affront to liberty, and wholly incompatible with the ideals of a liberal society.
The events at Berkeley have sparked discussion about violent protest, nowhere more than in the pages of UC Berkeley’s student newspaper.
On February 7, The Daily Californian published five op-eds, in the editor’s words, “in favor of the use of violence in protests,” with titles such as “Violence helped ensure safety of students,” “Black bloc did what campus should have,” and “Condemning protesters same as condoning hate speech.”
Fortunately, these troubling perspectives weren’t the only ones shared in The Daily Californian. Chancellor Dirks wrote an excellent op-ed in response to these calls for more violence, straightforwardly titled “Do not condone violence to suppress free speech.” Of the aforementioned op-eds, Dirks says:
Recent op-ed submissions to this newspaper have ... shifted the debate from one about freedom of speech and the First Amendment to naked endorsements of violent suppression of free speech in the name of supposedly higher values. While I feel strongly about my commitment to debate and disagreement, I am horrified by the call to embrace the use of violence to contest views with which we may disagree. Even if one believes that Yiannopoulos’ speech might potentially have constituted some form of rhetorical violence, meeting this threat with actual physical violence is antithetical to what we, as a community dedicated to open inquiry, must and do stand for. Physical violence has absolutely no place on our campus.
Dirks goes on to reaffirm the commitment to the First Amendment that FIRE praised last week:
In our present political moment, we need more than ever to cleave to the laws that protect our fundamental rights. The First Amendment is unequivocal in its almost unfettered protection of speech with which many might disagree, but which is the same protection that allows speech that others wish to hear. We cannot support free speech selectively, even as we must understand that the commitment to justice, to free inquiry, to truth, is the very foundation of what we hold dear as the University of California. And we should heed the caution of leaders who have persevered in the face of calls for violence, remembering Gandhi’s famous phrase: “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” The University of California was founded with the motto “Fiat Lux,” let there be light. Now more than ever, let us make this light shine bright.
It is extremely heartening to see such an eloquent statement not just of compliance with First Amendment principles, but of respect for the ideals that they represent. It is our sincere hope that students at Berkeley and beyond will consider his words, and that even as our country experiences sharp ideological divides, we will come together to oppose violence, even against those we disagree with most.