Thursday, December 1, 2011

Free Speech At UCI: Shut Down Access Roads!

Let's not cross the police! Police lines block access to free speech area

Update (6:30 pm): Chancellor Michael Drake issues a statement saying "Our campus policies treat all speakers equally. We regulate only the time place and manner of speech on a 'content-neutral' basis, as required by state and federal law and university policy. This is true no matter how strongly we may disagree with the speaker or how antithetical the speaker’s message may be to campus values and principles" but Drake does not address the earlier report of UCI telling Jones he would be arrested should he show up.

Update (2:29 pm): Jones threatened with arrest if he shows up... UCI spokesperson says: ""We're not denying him access to the campus, just that particular area because it was already spoken for", while Jones says that "The Event Services department informed us that the entire university campus is free for public speaking at any time." Dispatch in Daily Breeze. See also OC Weekly update, where another UCI spokesperson said "Jones was in contact with UCI officials this morning, and was told he would be arrested if he returns in order to 'protect the safety of UCI students and the campus community'."

It may be the biggest non-event in UC Irvine history. This morning, campus police at UC Irvine shut down roads leading to the flagpoles area (where speakers usually gather) and even restricted pedestrian traffic. All because, as UCI employees soon found out, Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who burned the Koran last March, was rumored to be speaking on campus.

Is this how UCIPD will react to controversial speakers post-UC Davis pepper-spray? Forget all the talk about the UCs being open to free speech. Let's just shut down part of the campus so no one can address anyone. If this is not content-based restriction, masking under the fig leaf of security, what is?

I first encountered this heightened state of security, it turned out, when I attempted to drive to my usual parking spot across from Langson Library this morning. The road was blocked and I had to park in a parking structure some ways away. But I was not allowed to walk on the road to the Library. Instead, a man wearing a UCI parking jacket said it was for "protest detail" -- and that I had to go through the student center building and walk another way to my office.
Chalk asks if tuition is paying for this police action

A 9:55 am email from a unit of the Libraries informed me that: "Without any advance notice from campus, the delivery access to Langson
Library has been closed off from Pereira. I don't have any information
at this time other than campus PD is enforcing this. Therefore,
deliveries (mail, vendors, etc.) today will be off schedule...."

A campus-wide ZOTAlert soon followed at 10:33 am: ZotAlert: Anteater Plaza, Ring Rd, flagpoles, and Pereira are closed immediately to pedestrian and vehicular traffic until further notice for security reasons.

This was followed at 11:23 am by a Safety Update: Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who made news by burning the Quran last March, announced he would be speaking in the area of the flag poles at 11:30 on Thursday, Dec. 1. Intelligence received by UCIPD
indicated suspicious activity that raised concern about the safety of
the event. As a precaution the area has been closed and no events will
take place in this area. Other campus activity is continuing as normal.
News photographers wait for missing pastor

Further ZotAlerts followed two minutes later: The pastor who made news by burning a Quran, announced he would speak at the flag poles today. UCIPD has intell of suspicious activity raising safety concerns.

And at 11:26 am: As a precaution, the area has been closed and no events will take place. Otherwise, the campus is open and operating normally.

As the UC begins reviewing police practices systemwide, today's campus police response should serve as an excellent case study of how not to over-react in a free speech situation. The police department has a lot of explaining to do. At a minimum, reveal what the "security concern" was and let the public judge. -- Daniel C. Tsang.

All photographs © 1 December 2011 Daniel C. Tsang


George Had a Hat said...

Thanks for always gettin the News Out !!!

Dana said...

Hi Dan! Great post as always. Though I do want to point out that 1) a bomb threat is rumored to have been involved (which is doubtful to me, because if there was, wouldn't we have seen cop cars and fire engines?) but that would force them to shut down the area. Second, Terry Jones was denied a permit to hold a rally and, according to his blog was planning to go through with it anyway, so I don't mind at all that they made it impossible for him to show up! Haters not welcome here. :)