Letters to the Editor: Is Free Speech Threatened by Punishing Protesters?



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UC Berkeley has a long history of civil disobedience and building takeovers. The point of civil disobedience is to bring attention to issues neglected or distorted in the public debate through disruptive actions. Participants, of course, take responsibility for their actions.

But suspension of the students involved is a punishment inappropriate for the action taken, namely participation in a political event, and raises free speech and legal issues ("Students Arrested During Protest May Be Suspended," April 26). A one-year suspension might forever keep the individuals from continuing their education at UC Berkeley (or other institutions) and deprive the campus of 41 of its most outspoken voices. Further, the chilling effect on student political participation for years to come can hardly be anticipated.

This is a threat to the civil liberties of students everywhere. Even a probation of the students would be too severe a measure. These measures fly in the face of the university's long tradition of openness and debate.

Jon Bauer


UC Berkeley alumnus

I applaud the administration's decision to disband the Students for Justice in Palestine ("Students Arrested During Protest May Be Suspended," April 26). Plain and simple, the group's "second annual" takeover of Wheeler Hall disrupted lectures, exams and education in general at this university-their actions are a violation of the student code of conduct.

The university should definitely take disciplinary action against those students arrested on April 9, especially the student organizers of this event. Disciplinary action against these students will go a long way toward discouraging future disruptions of academics and will help to ensure that the students who come here to learn can do so unimpeded.

Leor Weinberger


UC Berkeley student

All students must oppose the university administration's recent actions suppressing students' free speech ("Students Arrested During Protest May Be Suspended," April 26). The administration has banned Students for Justice in Palestine indefinitely from holding rallies, publicizing events, having a literature table, and reserving university facilities. Against the 79 people who peacefully sat in at Wheeler Hall, the university administration has filed criminal charges of "trespassing" (on a public university!). The 41 students also face Student Code of Conduct charges and may be suspended up to one year. These actions are excessive and heavy-handed. Whatever one's view on university divestment, these actions clearly threaten the free speech and civil liberties of all students.

Students have the right to express opposition they may have to the university's or U.S. government's policies. With its actions, the administration seems to be seeking to establish the principle that it can, at will, suppress students' ability to organize and silence political dissent. By punishing students for protesting, Chancellor Berdahl harms the quality of education and student life at UC Berkeley. He would prevent the right of the 41 students to an education-disrupting education and freedom of debate.

If, in the home of the Free Speech Movement, university authorities succeed in placing a gag on student speech and dissent, then there is no such thing as "free speech" for students here or across the nation.

Hoku Jeffrey


ASUC senator

Daily Cal's 'Objectivity'

It seems The Daily Californian has adopted a policy of selective objectivity. In Bryan Ritchie's column ("Numbers and Noise," April 29) he claims that "some of (the Muslim Student Association's) members saw fit to force their way into the office," a deliberately false allegation. I was one of those people, and in fact no force was involved since we walked through an open door into the Daily Cal lobby, merely trying to get an appointment with Steve Sexton, the news editor. We were never asked to leave, and in fact, I suggested we leave after it became clear that Mr. Sexton was unavailable and that the most we could obtain was his business card.

The inaccuracies don't end with Bryan Ritchie. Steve Sexton alleged in a column that he "was chased as (he) left the office late one night" by members of the Muslim Student Association "who had gathered in the lobby of Eshleman Hall to complain about a story in the paper" ("Recalcitrant Execs Shirk Accountability," April 30). Again, this is demonstrably false. Two people followed Mr. Sexton to ask when he would be available to meet, yet his ominous tone suggests that violence was their intent. He also falsely states that MSA members gathered in the lobby to complain, when in actuality they were only one of many groups attending an ASUC Senate meeting. We saw Mr. Sexton leaving, so we took the opportunity to speak with him.

Lastly, we did not threaten to have 200 people occupy the Daily Cal office; we simply pointed out that rather than sitting in, our intent was to work constructively with the Daily Cal through discussion.

Perhaps the most blatant fallacy, however, is Mr. Sexton's allegation that "a similar threat was levied by the same group last night, but this time against a columnist." On that day, two students and I went to the Daily Cal office again, this time to schedule an appointment with Eric Ostrem, the opinion page editor, to air our concerns about the inaccuracy of Mr. Ritchie's column. We requested to speak with Mr. Ritchie or Mr. Ostrem if possible, and if not, whether we could schedule an appointment. The woman we spoke with was incredibly rude, and initially refused to divulge her name. We left without any threats being made.

Mr. Sexton further writes that "the Daily Cal will continue to listen to concerns from students and readers," yet our experience has repeatedly shown otherwise. Free speech is not an excuse for newspapers to print false speech. The Daily Cal must stop using UC Berkeley's premier publication as a medium to express personal vendettas.

Shoaib Kamil


UC Berkeley student

Mayor Taking Credit

It pleased me that Kriss Worthington proposed that we follow up on our designation of Berkeley as a hate free zone by bringing together representatives of different groups and individuals that have been the target of hate actions in Berkeley. Then on April 16, Kriss submitted a council item proposing a hate crime unit in the Berkeley Police Department.

I was saddened but not surprised to read The Daily Californian headline, "Violence Directed At Jews Prompts Mayor To Propose Hate Crimes Unit," on April 26. It is apparent that the mayor is now trying to take credit for Kriss' ideas. While it is desirable for the mayor to support this idea, it is unfortunately divisive to claim it is her proposal without crediting Kriss and many others already working on this. Can't we all just work together on those issues where we agree?

Dona Spring


Berkeley City Council member

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