Protesting hate speech is valid, violent riots are not

Jennie Matuschak & Maddie Boone, Contributing Writer & News Layout Editor

At what point does protest become counterproductive? Violent riots broke out at the University of California, Berkeley campus on Feb. 1 after the school’s Republican club invited Milo Yiannopoulos, a controversial editor at Breitbart News, to speak as part of his national college tour. What started as a peaceful demonstration against some of Yiannopoulos’ more racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic views escalated into dangerous protests complete with broken windows, smoke bombs, and flares.

Even after dozens of faculty members and students wrote letters to the administration arguing that Yiannopoulos’ statements conflicted with the school’s codes of equality, the university still maintained that he would indeed speak at the campus. However, two hours before the talk was scheduled to begin, the protests became so violent that the university made the decision to cancel his appearance and evacuate Yiannopoulos to ensure his safety and bring order to the campus.

This protest-turned-riot is emblematic of the divided state of our country. The timing of his talk involving what some call “hate speech” at a notably liberal university was undoubtedly insensitive, though his right to free speech is guaranteed by the First Amendment. The mass protests that have occurred in past weeks regarding the newly inaugurated President Trump’s contentious executive orders have made for a relatively sensitive American population. Regardless, as insensitive as Yiannopoulos’ timing may have been, the unlawful and violent riots that ultimately dominated the demonstration are unjustifiable.

Riots are, first and foremost, dangerous. Moreover, violent protest is counterproductive. While many, including the university itself, may disagree with Yiannopoulos’ opinions, rioting and violently protesting are ineffective ways to fight back because it portrays the opposition in a negative light. Many around the country are afraid, angered, and/or worried about the new leadership in the White House and those who support it, but this sort of response begs the question: can we ever be a productive country again if we cannot let one man speak his mind?

We do not have to agree with him, and we may feel threatened by his number of supporters, but this country was founded on allowing everyone to voice their opinions, however unpopular or inflammatory they may be. Americans share the right to free speech, and this is something we must not take lightly. However much we may disagree with others’ opinions, hearing them and understanding how others come to those conclusions is how society progresses.

We must not compromise our values as Americans because we disagree. That which threatens and challenges us requires us to stand united and rise above it. Yiannopoulos tries to provoke people; he is, in fact, famous for doing so. He is an entertainer and self-proclaimed “internet troll,” not someone necessarily aimed at changing policy or lobbying. Causing such a violent commotion only fuels Yiannopoulos as a public figure, giving him more attention and the ability to act as a victim.

In this case, and often in related cases, the hard work put into peaceful demonstration gets overlooked as the media capitalizes on its transformation into a story-worthy riot. If we can remember back to bullying prevention in elementary school, the only way to enable a bully is by giving them the attention they so desire. We ought to regard Yiannopoulos in this respect, and we must remember that peaceful protesting will always be the most productive way to express discontent.

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