The Daily Gamecock

Letter to the editor: Campus protests should not have police-maintained 'buffer zones'

President Caslen,

A police-maintained “buffer zone” is inappropriate for reasons I will explain below:

When hate speech arrives on campus, it is the right of the Carolina community to establish protective barriers — physical walls, drowning noise, heckling, distractions etc. — to protect its community from hate speech. 

It must be acknowledged that recent events have raised to the surface valid questions of whether police have a valid role within our communities at all. However, accepting that police are here, it is important that those of you who have the power to wield them take care and understand the role they do, and do not, play.

The state, with its military and police as its arms, is endowed with a legal monopoly of violence. For this reason, the freedom of the people depends on the state not abridging freedom of speech. But a free people are not agents of the state, are not endowed with the privilege of violence and are not obliged to tolerate hate speech.

As you point out, it is the (legal) right of these agitators to move and speak freely in the public spaces. Bearing this in mind, it is the obligation of the police to ensure they can move and speak in peace.

It is not the obligation of police to ensure that this speech is heard and seen. It is absolutely an inappropriate overreach to use police to this end. While it is the obligation of police for themselves not to obstruct speech from being heard, it is very much not their place to prevent a free community of citizens from doing the same in a peaceful fashion.

The value of some form of buffer zone is not lost on me: Maintaining distance to prevent tumbles between the community and agitators is a worthwhile cause. It is reasonable to expect that keeping the peace might entail keeping distances.

Yet, I claim that a police-managed buffer zone imposes neutrality to speech, which violates the rights of the Carolina community. The president of the university should acknowledge and protect the right of the Carolina community to maintain a peaceful buffer according to the values of the community, not according to the imposed restrictions of the state.

A community-managed buffer zone by no means implies chaos. If police oversight is deemed necessary, then let it be so, so that the right of these agitators to speak and move without threat of violence is preserved. But let’s not assert this dangerous myth that Carolinians are under the obligation to permit hate speech be heard on campus simply because the police and officials must. On the contrary, protecting the free speech of the Carolina community necessarily entails permitting Carolinians to protect one another.

I hope that in recent months, the President has recognized the incredible work of activists in Columbia and around the country who have done a better job maintaining peace than the police themselves have. I recommend that the president order police to permit Carolinians to protect their community.

Best regards,

Jude Jackson

Fourth-year mechanical engineering student