EDITORIAL: Fight for your rights, just not literally
Violent protests at U.C. Berkeley do not send right message
A controversial debate over freedom of speech broke out after a frightening display of free speech was displayed last Wednesday night at the University of California, Berkeley.
After conservative, British journalist and entrepreneur Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to appear and speak at U.C. Berkeley, a series of violent protests broke out on the university campus. The protests were said to be caused not only by the controversial comments made by Yiannopoulos in the past, but also his alleged plans to publicly name undocumented students during his speech. Although these plans were never verified, most students claimed that they would not put it above Yiannopoulos to do so considering his previous offenses of mocking a transgender student and being banned from Twitter for cyber bullying actress Leslie Jones.
But the protests that ensued ensured that Yiannopoulos would not get the chance to make one of his controversial comments.
Protestors dressed entirely in black made up a group of 100 to 150 people who triggered violent acts amongst the other 1,500 to 2,000 peaceful protestors. The University of California, Berkely's police Sgt. Sabrina Reich called the group "'black bloc anarchists," and said that the protest was peaceful until this particular group joined the march. A senior at the school, Zach Brooks, told the East Bay Times that he did not think any of the black bloc anarchists were affiliated with the university. The group clad in black entered the scene and were violent upon their arrival. They threw rocks, fireworks and gas grenades at the police. These protestors also knocked down barriers around the site where Yiannopoulos was supposed to speak and even set a generator on fire, which caught on to trees. The scene was terrifying enough to cause the campus officials to cancel the Yiannopoulos appearance that day, if anything, for his own safety. This prompted outrage from President Donald J. Trump. On his twitter, Trump wrote: “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS.” Yiannopoulos supported Trump’s words and called for a cut to federal funding for the university.
Although U.C. Berkeley is known for its history of protests — including violent ones — the response has never been like this. But Trump’s dedication to “free speech” creates a complex conversation about the subject. First, it is important to realize that a group of 150 people only represent a very small fraction of 2,000 peaceful demonstrators, and just as media does with many small minorities of a larger group, it is wrong to identify a total population by the actions of a part of it. In fact, the arrests that were made were found to be people who were not even students of the university. And Trump’s claim that protests were infringements on free speech is contradictory to itself because the act of protesting is an action of free speech as well. Considering that he was also talking about the protests in whole, prioritizing one form of free speech over another is in fact, picking sides.
That being said, the people who were dressed head-to-toe in black clothing, smashing windows of businesses that belonged to everyday people and desecrating the area near the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union went about it completely wrong.
Protesting can be a powerful tool, and we were reminded of this fact from the recent protests such as the ones incited after the “Muslim ban,” as well as the Women’s March on Washington. But destroying property and being violent is not the way. Protestors should start fires with their words, not literally. When someone chooses to get violent, it discredits whatever he or she is fighting for. Violence defeats the purpose of your message and instead makes it easier for those in opposition of you to claim your ignorance and lack of self-control. These 100 and 150 people who chose anger and destruction completely eradicated the efforts of the other 1,000 people fighting the right way.
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