|February 8, 2010 - MSU members are arrested.|
Photo by Natasha Aftandilians | New University
After the incident first occurred, my opinion was unpopular amongst my activist friends. I felt that what the "Irvine 11" did was rude, though I agreed it was not illegal. In my opinion, there's a way to protest and have it be effective, but their actions did not demonstrate that. Did they have a right to speak? Yes, but they silenced another man's right to speak as well. No matter how horrible the person is, "free speech" does not give you the right to publicly silence somebody else. And that isn't the way to have your own voice be heard either. Nobody listens to those who shout in such a manner. The way I see it, this isn't about you embarrassing the university; it's about you not getting your opinion across--not because you were silenced, but because you acted in a way that made nobody want to listen. My opinion about the importance of executing protests effectively comes after a year of careful research into the history of student activism at UCI and through my time reporting for the New U. When it comes to movements of activism and protest, I do want to listen, and I believe I made an effort to do that. I also made an effort to try and show why there was such apathy amongst the thousands of students who chose not to protest: because it was about how the protesting was happening, not because of the message. So please keep reading before you jump to comment and criticize because this is the opinion of somebody who was critical over the Irvine 11's actions, so you'll understand the strength in my accompanying opinion over yesterday's verdict in their trial.
There have been worse things to happen--louder proclamations in our recent history. Representative Joe Wilson showed that back in 2009 when he shouted, "You lie!" at President Obama. The Westboro Baptist Church is another example--and the Supreme Court even said it was okay for them to demonstrate in their hateful ways.
When I spoke with members of the Muslim Student Union last summer about the university's punishment, the reaction was (rightfully) shock and anger. They felt they were being discriminated against. I personally felt like a university sanction was sufficient and in accordance with their actions. Had the Irvine 11 waited until the Q&A session at the end (and, yes, I do believe they would've held it even if there was no interruption) to challenge Oren, it would've been different. This wasn't an event at the flagpoles; it was a sponsored event held inside on campus property. You could've walked out with silent indignation (see the UN this last week, for an example) and continued a robust protest outside. There are so many ways to have gotten your point across. But, all that is moot now: Student Conduct did their thing, and it should've ended there.
But then good ol' Tony Rauckauckas saw it fit to throw criminal charges against the 11. That is something that I absolutely, 100% (and more) could not, cannot and do not support. Especially not at a time when there were other more pressing issues being silently swept, yet again, under the rug. Choosing to put 11 university students up in front of a grand jury for misdemeanor charges was ridiculous. Even my colleagues and friends who shared my opinion of the incident (or had more conservative ones themselves) and even members of the administration who supported the university's decision to punish agreed that this was not something the DA should be pursuing. It was a waste of time, money and resources. "There are other things the criminal justice system should be focusing on," someone said to me bitterly following the DA's announcement.
|The "Stand With the Eleven" campaign|
arose after the students' arrests.
Now, almost two years later, 10 of those 11 students have criminal charges slapped to their names. "The university responded by suspending the Muslim Student Union, which it found to be behind the planned disruptions, and disciplining some of the students. Job accomplished," read an editorial published today in the LA Times. "The students were in the wrong, but there's such a thing as proportion. If college students faced criminal charges every time they misbehaved, we could fill the jails with undergraduates."
If you want to convict bad behavior in a court of law, then make it a precedent. Every incident of someone speaking out should be punished in the same manner. Anytime someone speaks out of turn or expresses a dissenting view, arrest and try them in a jury of their "peers." Every time the students who are constantly being burdened with fee increases choose to protest, threaten them with jail so they are afraid to speak out. When a student or a group chooses to walk out of a room or a lecture or a meeting in silent protest of a speaker or in support of their peers for whatever principles guide their actions, cite them all for conspiring to disrupt an event. Teach your children to hold their tongues at all times in order to save them from the hand of the law should they make the mistake of speaking out at an unfavorable moment. It doesn't matter anymore if you teach the students to protest effectively, to make their voices heard through speech or print or art--it's all a criminal offense now, and that, apparently, is what justice looks like in America.