Free Speech and Civil Disobedience

On May 2, UCR hosted its second event in the Speak Out Series “Free Speech and Civil Disobedience,” in response to recent student protests and police brutality within the UC system. Sponsored by CHASS, CHASS F1RST and the Center for Ideas and Society, the event questioned the legality of police violence and the steps our system can take in order to prevent further misconduct.
The event started off with a projection of the First Amendment, and highlighted the section that pertains to freedom of speech. The First Amendment grants U.S. citizens not only freedom of press and speech, but also freedom of assembly, which many can argue is synonymous with public protests. Setsu Shigematsu, one of the organizers for the event and a professor of media and cultural studies, followed the projection with a student-directed video. Within the video were scenes from previous protests at UC Davis and UC Irvine, as well as a few interviews with those involved. At one point the video played a clip of Chancellor White being questioned by a few students about his opinion on the need for police involvement. When questioned why the police were needed, the chancellor responded saying that the police were merely there in preparation for the event, and that in situations like that, he fully endorses more police. This need for more and more police is one of the growing issues both students and faculty believe to be the cause of increased violence at protests.

Mohammad Tajsar, the first speaker at the event and a UC Berkeley law graduate, agrees with this belief.  He began his presentation by discussing the First Amendment and the tolerance we as people have for it, and how the whole matter of civil disobedience arose out of increased sensitivity towards the First Amendment. From there, Tajsar began to lecture about the university’s involvement in each protest, stating that rather than simply tolerate speech, the university should encourage and facilitate it. Also, the university should make policies regarding violent actions and develop nonviolent techniques concerning crowd control.  A shocking fact Tajsar presented was that the Oakland Police have more policies protecting protestors than we do, emphasizing the need for change within the UC system. With these tools and methods, Tajsar believes we would be able to properly defend our education.

The second presenter, Dan Stormer, is an internationally recognized lawyer and is known as one of the top attorneys in the U.S. He focuses on civil rights and international human rights and was one of the defense attorneys involved in the infamous Irvine 11 case, where 10 students protested against Israel’s ambassador and were later found guilty and sentenced to probation.  Stormer brought two of these students, Taher Herzallah and Khalid Akari, to the event. Herzallah and Akari shared their personal stories and revealed that the most critical factor in the entire case was the community’s support. Stormer went on to elaborate on the case, stating that as a protestor you have to try to do the most you can within your rights, to take your conscience and do some moral representation. As a protestor you also need to have staying power, and “a cast iron ass;” the ability to sit still and defend your beliefs.

In response to some questioning about the police, Stormer replied with “cops are cops,” that the fault lies within whoever called the police rather than the police themselves. “It isn’t the rules you have to attack, but the system,” stated Stormer.
Students who are interested in free speech issues are welcome to attend the next Speak Out event on May 10 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in HMNSS 1500, where a panel of student activists will be facing off with UCR’s own police chiefs. There is also a symposium on May 25 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the University Theater where students and faculty will discuss free speech and civil disobedience with Angela Davis, a well known political activist, author and scholar.

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