On February 1, police and campus administrators at the University of California, Berkeley, failed in their duty to see that Milo Yiannopoulos’s appearance at the school took place as scheduled. Instead, a violent mob shut down the venue by committing assaults, vandalism, and arson. Mr. Yiannopoulos was forced to flee the campus in fear for his life.
As I wrote here on PJ Media at the time, the campus police chief, Margo Bennett, defended her failure by offering the rationalization that has become standard for people in her position: The police used “tremendous restraint,” she said, for fear of escalating the situation and causing further injuries and property damage.
Charles Murray was similarly hounded from the campus at Middlebury College in Vermont last month, and just last week, Heather Mac Donald was interrupted repeatedly by protesters while speaking at UCLA. The disturbance was mild when compared to what happened the following day when she went to speak at Claremont McKenna College. As police stood by, a mob blocked access to the speaking venue, forcing Ms. Mac Donald to deliver her remarks in an empty room via livestream. Even under those conditions, the event was curtailed when escalating violence forced Ms. Mac Donald to flee the campus under police escort.
Predictably, Claremont McKenna College President Hiram Chodosh echoed the timid U.C. Berkeley police chief in rationalizing his own timidity. “Based on the judgment of the Claremont Police Department,” he said in a statement, “we jointly concluded that any forced interventions or arrests would have created unsafe conditions for students, faculty, staff, and guests. I take full responsibility for the decision to err on the side of these overriding safety considerations.”
Yes, yes, we must be “safe” while we stand by passively and watch as the right of free speech is trampled under the feet of a mob.
Ms. Mac Donald described her experiences at UCLA and Claremont McKenna in a piece for City Journal, in which she also laments the silence of faculty members, scant few of whom have raised their tenured voices to condemn the current assault on free expression. “Where are the faculty?” she asks. And she continues:
American college students are increasingly resorting to brute force, and sometimes criminal violence, to shut down ideas they don’t like. Yet when such travesties occur, the faculty are, with few exceptions, missing in action, though they have themselves been given the extraordinary privilege of tenure to protect their own liberty of thought and speech. It is time for them to take their heads out of the sand.
In conjecturing where all those faculty heads might be, “the sand” is a more charitable option than the one I might have chosen, but the point is the same. America’s universities, where students once sought guidance from their older and presumably wiser instructors, have become extensions of preschool, where faculty members offer comfort and safety rather than wisdom, and where any perceived threat to that comfort and safety is met with a shrieking tantrum. And as any parent of a toddler comes to learn, tantrums continue for as long as the child perceives they produce benefits.
And let’s face it, the shrieking tantrums recently seen on college campuses have indeed produced benefits, and at little cost to the shriekers. As of this writing, no one at Middlebury College has been called to answer for what happened at the Charles Murray event, at which, please remember, a faculty member accompanying Mr. Murray was attacked and injured. And despite the criminal bedlam on the Berkeley campus at the Milo Yiannopoulos event, only one person was arrested.
But police and faculty at U.C. Berkeley are now presented with the opportunity to redeem themselves and demonstrate that free expression still has a home on their campus. Ann Coulter, the original conservative provocateur, has been invited to speak at the school on April 27. The scheduled topic is illegal immigration, so one can well imagine the carnival of protest that will greet her.
U.C. authorities will have had a month to prepare for Ms. Coulter’s appearance, ample time in which to take the necessary steps to secure her right to speak, the audience’s right to listen, and anyone’s right to protest peacefully. But, coming as it does in the wake of the Milo Yiannopoulos debacle, the invitation to Coulter will be seen as a thumb in the eye to those who would refuse any conservative a platform on the Cal campus, a large number of whom will surely turn out in an effort to see that Ms. Coulter is driven from the campus just as swiftly as Mr. Yiannopoulos was.
If campus administrators and police wish to prevent that from happening, there are some very simple steps they must take. First, they should arrange a meeting with the leaders of whichever groups are planning to protest the event. Listen to their concerns, but emphasize that the law will be enforced, with violators facing arrest where necessary.
Second, publicize this stance through the school newspaper and social media, and let it be known that any U.C. student who engages in the type of behavior seen at the Milo Yiannopoulos event will, in addition to any punishment meted out in court, face school discipline and possible expulsion.
Third, have campus police reach out to surrounding jurisdictions in anticipation of the need for mutual aid. Ensure that communication and lines of command among the various police departments can be maintained and that a sufficient number of officers are deployed and properly equipped.
Fourth, on the day of the event, establish a clear route for audience members to enter the venue and post officers to ensure their safety. Also, have some officers equipped to film whatever may transpire. Too often, the police are left to explain video footage in the media that may have been edited in such a way as to show them in a harsh light. By filming the entirety of the event, the police can show that any force used was in response to aggression. A police officer acting within the law need not fear being filmed if the footage is presented honestly.
Fifth, at the first appearance of any black-clad demonstrators carrying backpacks and wearing masks, stop them and investigate. The law allows for a brief, investigatory detention of anyone for whom there is a reasonable, articulable belief he may be engaged in criminal activity, and anyone so attired at the Ann Coulter event will have all but announced his intent to disrupt it.
Finally, and most important, at the first sign of violence, take appropriate action at once, using reasonable force where necessary. Demonstrations of “restraint” only embolden those bent on causing disruption, and experience has shown that when the first of any group of troublemakers is bundled off in handcuffs, the rest of them begin to alter their behavior. And if the situation does escalate, call in the mutual aid resources already standing by.
If these steps are followed, Ann Coulter will be able to deliver her remarks unmolested, and those who choose to demonstrate against her peacefully can do so till they’re hoarse. But, as this calls for courage and resolve on the part of those who previously have shown little of either, we dare not expect this will happen.