On Wednesday violent protests erupted at the University of California, Berkeley. The demonstrations were initially peacefully protesting the presence of Milo Yiannopoulos, the editor of Breitbart News.
Yiannopoulos was due to give a speech to the UC Berkeley College Republicans, but the event was cancelled by the university “amid violence, destruction of property, and concern for public safety,” according to a university statement.
Yiannopoulos, a self-described provocateur, has a history of making controversial statements that have been described as xenophobic, islamophobic, anti- Semitic, and racist.
His language has been described by some as “hate speech,” and he has been banned from Twitter for comments he has made about actress Leslie Jones. Yiannopoulos’s previous statements and actions are inexcusable and it is understandable why many students at the university did not want him to be given a platform to espouse his views within their school.
It is also clear, however, that the College Republicans had a legal right to invite Yiannopoulos to speak, and he had a right to be heard, despite the content of his speeches being offensive to many people.
Fires were set in the streets of campus, at least one of which began with a fire bomb.
Reports estimate the protests caused around $100,000 in damages with only one person arrested. The university claims the protests were initially peaceful but turned violent when a group of around 150 masked “agitators” arrived and incited violence.
When the event was shut down around 6 p.m. local time, there were around 1,500 students outside the building where Yiannopoulos was due to speak. The university also announced that several students were physically attacked by protesters, and the campus police treated six students for injuries. This is morally unacceptable.
Violence and intimidation have no place in our society. The university is supposed to be a place where ideas are argued and discussed.
A student’s mere attendance at an event does not mean that they endorse all of the ideas that the speaker espouses. Even if the students do agree with Yiannopoulos’s ideas, no one should be attacked for their beliefs, no matter how passionately others may believe their point of view is morally wrong.
Also, the violent protests have brought a great deal of attention to the event, and generated a lot of media attention around Yiannopoulos. His book “Dangerous” skyrocketed to being the number one book on Amazon in the days immediately following the riots.
The students have likely given Yiannopoulos a bigger platform through the media than he would have had if he would have given his speech to the UC Berkeley College Republicans without incident.
President Trump also waded into the controversy on Thursday via Twitter. “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” he posted. The university is not to blame for the protests. It did allow Yiannopoulos to come speak and only canceled the event to protect public safety.
The entire university should not lose federal funding because of the actions of a small number of violent protesters. While xenophobia and racism have no place in our society, neither does violence.
The battle for peaceful coexistence between religions and racial equality need not be won by limiting the free speech of those who do not agree but through discussion in the free market of ideas.