Hopefully the experiences of four Northern Kentucky University students arrested for vandalizing the display of a pro-life student group will serve as another useful lesson to those on campus who still think that destroying the expression of other students is a legitimate act of First Amendment expression.
The student group in question here is Northern Right to Life, which according to KyPost.com set up a display which "consisted of baby clothes on a line with a red ‘x’ through every fourth one." A spokesperson for the student group said the "x" was supposed to represent "that every fourth baby is aborted in America."
After the group’s display was vandalized twice, frustrated members staked out the display in the hopes of catching the perpetrators in the act. As KyPost.com reports:
When [the vandalism] happened a second time, NRTL member Nathaniel Hall said, "I was tired of it."
So he and a friend from Thomas Moore [sic] College decided to hide in plain sight to catch the troublemakers. They hid in a metal boxlike sculpture a few feet away during the night.
They weren’t disappointed.
"I saw one of the guys run over and start cutting it down," Hall said.
He called the police. The vandals took off.
"We wound up chasing them across campus," Hall said.
The police caught three suspects; Travis Black, Steven White and Montez Jenkins Copeland.
KyPost.com also notes that
A fourth suspect, Kyle Pickett turned himself in.
Ironically, in a phone conversation Pickett agreed with Roberts, as he defended the actions.
"Tearing it down was expressing our right to free speech," he said.
It should have come as no surprise to the suspected vandals that the police didn’t buy this line of argument; they were arrested for criminal mischief. KyPost.com also reports that NKU was considering disciplinary action for the students as well.
Fed up with this kind of vigilante censorship, the editors of NKU’s newspaper, The Northerner, write:
We’re wondering: Where does this culture of intolerance come from? The way the offenders seem to operate is: If we don’t like your message, we’ll just mess with your shit. No need to have a dialogue with you to express our beliefs or feelings on it. Let’s just destroy. In that aspect, they fit perfectly with NKU’s sports symbol, the Viking, pillaging and plundering. […] Overall, NKU tries to follow acts of vandalism with serious procedure, but it is the campus culture that needs to change.
The editorial also reminds us that NKU is the same university where former professor Sally Jacobsen actively encouraged her students to destroy a Northern Right to Life display in 2006. Jacobsen at the time scoffed at the idea she could possibly have been in the wrong, stating that "Any violence perpetrated against that silly display was minor compared to how I felt when I saw it." NKU saw things very differently and placed Jacobsen on leave; she was eventually charged with criminal solicitation for the incident and left the university at the end of the semester.
According to The Northerner later that year, Jacobsen also entered mediation with NKU, Northern Right to Life, and the student government:
The mediation was successful and Jacobsen agreed to pay $270 in restitution for the stolen and damaged goods and to make a $1,000 donation to the Madonna House, a non-profit organization that helps single pregnant women. […]
For Jacobsen, the successful completion means the charges against her are dropped. The six students who were charged were ordered to do community service and write an apology and have it published in Viewpoints section of The Northerner [after which the charges were dropped].
It is disappointing that none of this deterred this year’s vandals.
We have written much on the malice, ignorance, arrogance, and childishness that animates so many of these attempts to deny others their right to have their message delivered. (Just for starters, see Greg’s Torch post responding to the Jacobsen-led censorship in 2006). Something else should be clear to those who would resort to such methods: When one feels it their right to destroy the expression of a person or group because, in their infinite wisdom, theirs is the only viewpoint worthy of airing, they forfeit the high ground when the same censorship is visited upon them. If the suspected vandals at NKU really believed what they said when they claimed their vandalism was legitimate expression, then they’d have no recourse if the students they censored did the same thing to them down the road.
Whether they’ve figured this out by now or not, I think those students would rather live in a society where one can be held accountable for denying the right of free speech to those they disagree with than a society in which one can’t.