Charlottesville: Two Takes

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Two senior students from different positions on the political spectrum respond to the Charlottesville protests through questions, as follows.

 

First is Carrie Zaremba, politically left and staunch anti-fascist.

Second is Adam Perry, politically moderate and outspoken student.

 

Should the Charlottesville protests be protected by the first amendment?

Carrie: Although hate speech is protected under the 1st Amendment, the “Unite the Right” was not about Nazis exercising their right to free speech. It was about inciting violence. The right-wing groups have co-opted and weaponized free speech to imply that hate speech is the only type of speech worth rallying around. Furthermore, free speech absolutism elides the issue of race and in the U.S.; civil liberties and individual rights have different meanings for different groups of people. During the Ferguson protests, 155 mostly black anti-racist protesters were arrested after facing an overwhelmingly militarized response. Conversely, in Charlottesville, despite numerous incidents of violence and the death of Heather Heyer, only 4 were arrested. The police, many of whom are white supremacists themselves, stood on the side and allowed the violence to ensue. The fact that neo-Nazis can quietly go about their lives, while peaceful BLM protesters are arbitrarily arrested, is unjust. How can the U.S. say that the 1st Amendment protects free speech for all when in practice, it only protects the free speech of white people?

Adam: I believe that every individual deserves a platform for speech no matter how good or evil, for when the government begins to regulate speech, society will be vulnerable to authoritarian exploitation and censorship. So yes, the white supremacists at the “Unite the Right” rally deserved the right to speak as did the counter-protesters. However, the line should be drawn when freedom of speech turns into the espousal of violence, as happened when Heather Heyer was killed by an intentionally crashed vehicle, or when individuals began to call for the death of Jews and non-whites. It is difficult to distinguish between threat and opinion in most cases, but for this rally, I believe the government and police forces should have taken a stronger stance in pacifying the protest for all sides.

 

Are the counter-protests of Antifa, Black Lives Matter, etc. justified?

Carrie: There is no moral equivalency between counter-protest groups and neo-Nazis, whose existence is predicated on the hatred of others. While leftists may engage in political violence these incidents are acts of resistance against injustice and nowhere near the scale of the destructiveness of the right-wing. Right-wing extremists committed 74% of the 372 politically motivated murders recorded in the U.S. between 2007-2016, whereas left-wing extremists committed less than 2%. Moreover, the power of the alt-right, whose ideology is sustained by an American government rooted in White Christian supremacy, far surpasses that of leftist groups. On the contrary, our current political system does little to support the oppressed communities that groups like BLM and Antifa seek to protect.

Adam: Yes and no.

 

How should our country respond to these protests moving forward?

Carrie: I would love for all white supremacists to be publicly identified, fired from their jobs, and evicted from their homes. Since the U.S. has historically done little, if anything, to counter racism, the left must mobilize in order to disrupt white supremacy through any means necessary, including by force. All power to the people!

Adam: State governments should learn how to better mollify protests before violence escalates; because despite acquiring the legal permits required to protest, the “Unite the Right” rally still devolved into conflict. If handled properly by the state of Virginia, the rally could’ve been nonviolent. The government should be more careful with their response to such rallies, as demonstrated by Trump’s comments defending the supremacist protesters. The government has the power to either stoke or quell violence, and I believe it was irresponsible for the government to have acted this way in the case of Charlottesville.

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