Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Of Pepper Spray, Free Speech and Due Process

Photo from The Daily Caller

The pepper spray incident at University of California Davis is reprehensible, no matter what your politics are or you feeling about the Occupy Wall Street Movement.  As it has been reported, the officer involved and the campus police chief have been suspended and may possible be headed for the unemployment line and rightfully they should.

However, I think the incident and some of the fallout posits and interesting dichotomy.  Professor KC Johnson (of the Duke Rape Case fame) posits some interesting things that have come out of Durham with regard to the UC-Davis incident about student rights and how campus administrations should deal with students.

However, students are (usually) adults and the college campus has long been a place where protests of one sort or another take place.  That should be something that campus police forces should be aware of.

But what I find interesting is the outrage over the incident.  As  FIRE President Greg Lukianoff noted, the UC-Davis Pepper incident is not the first time in recent times that campus police have been so over zealous as to be violating the rights of students.  Yet, because this incident is about Occupy Wall Street protests and was particularly stupid and heinous, it has received a lot of press coverage.

The fact is that campus all across the country routinely trample the rights of students and faculty alike.  But we rarely hear about such incidents.  I believe the campus incidents are simply another means by which the government attempts to limit our ability to speak.  Young people have a courage that many older adults don't have or lost.  Perhaps that is a courage born of naivete or idealism, but when the notion of free speech is quashed in the one place where it should flourish, and quashed by means of an armed police force, then the decision to speak up the next time is harder to make.  Eventually, the concept of free and open speech dies on the vine.  

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