It is unacceptable to violently stop others from having their opinions, including the right to free speech.
In a free and democratic society, every citizen has the right to their own political beliefs without having to live in fear that they will be harassed by it. Moreover, disagreement and confliction about issues are simply not a reason to lash out in violence, no matter what the belief is. Every person has the right to their own opinions, but it is unacceptable to violently stop others from having theirs, including the right to free speech.
What happened outside the Milo Yiannopoulos speech last week?
During the evening of February 1, 150 left-wing masked protestors caused civil unrest and $100,000 worth of damages to UC Berkeley against a right-wing speaker Milo Yiannopoulos. These protestors caused massive amounts of violence including throwing fireworks and rocks at police, creating fires, and smashing windows of the building where the speech was going to be held.
The controversial conservative speaker, Milo Yiannopoulos is known for expressing his views that are meant to offend left-wingers who disagree with his ideas. During the day of his appearance at UC Berkeley, he wanted to discuss cultural appropriation, but it was quickly apparent that many liberals did not want to tolerate his speech. The speech is canceled until further notice, and according to Milo, “the Left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down.”
One of the agitators was a staff member named Dabney Miller, who works at the University itself. During the Free Speech Movement, he boasted about assaulting conservatives and went as far as posting his inhumane acts of violence against Trump supporters online. One such post which was seen on his now privatized twitter included a Milo supporter from the event lying on the ground with the caption “hey come get your boy, he got ROCKED #miloatcal.”
It is important to note that despite the ongoing violence that occurred during the night, no arrests were made.
What fueled the riot in the first place?
In order to understand why many individuals were angry at the protest, we must first know who Milo Yiannopoulos actually is. He is a British journalist who holds opposing views to topics such as third-wave feminism, Islam, social justice, political correctness, and more. He also supports Donald Trump and agrees with many of his policies and decisions. While he is gay, he is also known to make claims such as gay rights are detrimental to humanity and gay men should “get back in the closet.”
When being asked to speak in the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley, it is understandable why many individuals, especially minorities, would feel offended and angry over Milo’s controversial views. In their perspective, free speech should be suppressed because it has the ability to spread hate. However, should this be a justification for extreme violence against someone who has opposing views than the majority? Some people may claim that yes, violence here is justified because it is a ‘last resort’ method for suppressing hate speech. For example, if unions, peaceful protests, and campaigns do not work, then the only choice left is to cause violence.
On the other hand, other people may claim that violence is not justified because it is not a rational way to deal with an issue. If somebody holds a view that may be contrary to what you believe in, the correct thing to do would be to address it in a peaceful manner and critically analyze it instead of being an advocate for violence. In the perspective of freedom of speech supporters, they believe that if someone has the ability to seize the right to speak freely, that right is no longer a right, but a privilege. They simply are seeking the right to be able to voice their opinions and beliefs, but are not closed to objections.
When freedom of speech turns into hate speech against other individuals, there is controversy about the extent to which it can be tolerated. However, it is clear by the UC Berkeley riot that fueling a fire with more fire is not the most rational way to deal with things.
Denying acts of violence is not working for UC Berkeley
UC Berkeley is trying to turn around the terrible situation by claiming that nobody from the University itself was part of the violence. In fact, they are suggesting that right-wing Trump supporters are actually the ones behind the violent acts. During a CNN report, a Berkeley official claimed that it is a “distortion of the truth” that Berkeley does not respect free rights even though there were hundreds of protesters during the event, one is which is proven to be an actual professor at the University. The University is portraying itself in the media as a peaceful school where the riots during the protest were caused by “black bloc” anarchists, or anti-fascists.
Not only is it ridiculous to make such an astounding claim with no basis of evidence, but violence should not be justified no matter who did it. Instead of debating who is at fault here, the University should be taking proactive measures to prevent such an event happening in the future, as well as creating an inclusive learning environment where everyone is able to exercise their own opinions and beliefs without danger to safety.
According to op-eds from the Daily Californian, which is the University’s newspaper, some students were in praise of the violence, ironically claiming that it made them feel safe. One undocumented immigrant who goes to the University stated that “the so-called ‘violence’ against private property that the media seems so concerned with stopped white supremacy from organizing itself against my community.”
I cannot answer whether there should be limitations about having freedom of speech, but I can answer that attempting to prove a point by the use of violent acts is detrimental to a functioning, democratic society.