Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
~1st Amendment, U.S. Constitution
The Bill of Rights was added to the U.S. Constitution to protect Americans from incidents they had experienced under British rule. Many delegates from varying states refused to sign unless the Bill of Rights was added, because it protected them against tyranny. Since then, freedom of speech and assembly have been included as the freedoms that distinguish the free world. These rights should be offered to everyone equally, but as we have seen at our public university, some people believe speech and assembly are rights offered only to those with certain views.
Many news sources have challenged the Davis College Republicans’ portrayal of the Milo Yiannopoulos event, saying the protesters were nonviolent and the DCR executive board canceled their event of their own volition. We believe this narrative to be simply untrue. The executive board was told by administration and campus police officials that they feared for the safety of their officers and the students. They also provided DCR what we see as false information, like how the UC Davis Police Department confiscated hammers that would be responsible for the protesters’ violent and destructive actions. After painstakingly reviewing footage from the event myself, I can only conclude that the UC Davis staff lied to the executive board with intent to stop the event. While the violence was clear, with cameras everywhere there is still no footage of hammers, and DCR could in no way be held liable for damages by the protesters.
I wish I could trust UC Davis administration to tell the truth. However, I am led to believe by their actions that they cannot be trusted. From the 2011 pepper spray incident to the allegations against former Chancellor Katehi, UC Davis is desperate to cover up negative news. UC Davis has plenty of positive news, like Most Sustainable University and Top College for Women in STEM. If UC Davis had protected our First Amendment rights, even at the expense of their image, I would be here defending my school. But the truth is that UC Davis threw DCR under the bus when pressured to do so. Once they realized that UC Davis would have to repeat the pepper spray incident or some equivalent to protect our rights, they refused to take the proper course of action. For that, I have to condemn their actions, and all the staff who didn’t defend what was right, no matter their personal beliefs. Some students displayed more maturity attending the protest. With signs stating, “Protect Free speech even ‘Hate’ speech,” they demonstrated commitment to a free dialogue. I applaud these students in their bravery to protect what is right, potentially risking their lives through their exposure to Friday’s violence.
Can UC Davis recover from this incident? There are two courses of action. UC Davis can commit their officials to defend and honor the law and rights of students, even at the cost of the image of the school. We can do it, because it’s the right thing to do. Otherwise, UC Davis can continue lying to the press, and to the clubs that invite controversy to campus with hopes of education, but then who feel utter betrayal when the UC Davis administration fails them. Either way is hard, but I hope UC Davis can move beyond its façade and help student organizations bring controversial speakers that challenge the status quo.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.