We see protests or demonstrations around campus all the time — some on as large a scale as organized walks around Ring Road; others on a smaller scale, with a few students camped outside of Aldrich Hall. Regardless of the magnitude, or cause, of the demonstration, these acts are an example of our right to free speech and advocacy on campus.
Students protesting during UC President Janet Napolitano’s recent visit to UC Irvine went into the demonstration with this mindset — they wanted to express their thoughts and concerns and expected to have this right guaranteed. However, instead of having their advocacy respected, several students were met with police aggression. Organizers of the rally stated that police officers were pushing and shoving participants to prevent them from entering the building where Napolitano was stationed and also said that one officer punched a protester.
Should this be allowed? This didn’t seem right to us editors here at the New U. We decided to look into the rights that students are given by the University of California policies and our basic civil rights. We also met with UC Irvine Police Chief Paul Henisey to learn more about police jurisdiction and discover what kind of authority officers are allowed to exhibit under their code.
We believe that every student should be aware of their rights and unafraid to question the actions of other protesters, police officers and administrators. We hope that our findings below will not only inform you as a student, but empower you to speak up as well.
As citizens of the United States, we are all entitled to free speech, which includes the right to communicate one’s opinions and ideas. Similarly, we are all guaranteed the right to protest and assemble on public grounds, as long as it does not disturb the peace. Law enforcement is allowed to place restraints on issues such as timing and location; freedom comes at a price.
Free speech on campus is under the jurisdiction of UC Irvine, which has the ability to interpret “disturbing the peace” at their own discretion.
Their interpretation can be found in UC Irvine Student Policy Code, section 30.30 under “Speech and Advocacy.” It states that “the University has a special obligation to protect free inquiry and free expression. On University grounds open to the public generally, all persons may exercise the constitutionally protected rights of free expression, speech and assembly. Such activities must not, however, interfere with the right of the University to conduct its affairs in an orderly manner and to maintain its property, nor may they interfere with the University’s obligation to protect rights of all to teach, study, conduct business and fully exchange ideas. Physical force, the threat of force, or other coercive activities used to subject anyone to a speech of any kind is expressly forbidden.”
According to Crowd Management Intervention and Control Strategies used to train the UCI Police Department, for every situation there is a law enforcement response. “Lawful assembly” is considered any type of free speech and assembly including “speeches, marches, demonstration, rallies, picketing, public assemblies and protests.” In the act of “lawful assembly,” the police department’s initial response is to passively monitor and assess the crowd. If there is no criminal activity, then there is no need for police involvement. The event is in the hands of student conduct, and the first actions must come from Student Affairs. At any campus protest, there is supposed to be a representative from Student Affairs present to monitor the student’s conduct. At the Napolitano protest, Dean Rameen Talesh was the representative present.
“Unlawful assembly” is defined by the California Penal Code as “two or more persons assembled to commit an unlawful act or commit a lawful act in a boisterous or tumultuous manner.” As evident in the policy, the language is explicitly subjective. We believe the subjectivity of the language should be used to protect student’s right to assemble and protest, not the police officers’ right to obstruct. If a situation is deemed as “unlawful assembly,” police are then required to “seek voluntary compliance, act quickly, dispense unlawful crowd and ensure only reasonable force.” We, at the New University, don’t believe the students were unlawfully assembled and did not meet the criteria for aggressive police action.
We were told that, although the police are making real-time assessments of the activity, they are also answering to Student Affairs and the Office of the Chancellor as to how they want the situation to be policed. In the case of the Napolitano protest, the police department was told by the Office of the President that they were to have a low level of visibility during her visit. UCIPD responded with plain clothes officers trying to secure the perimeter so as to block the students from what they saw as a potential disruption of a closed meeting. It is unacceptable that the students were unable to recognize police officers, and their presence should always be visible.
Concerned about the protection of student rights, we discussed the police response to demonstration with UCIPD. The department claimed the more organized the protest event, the more efficient they will be in helping carry out the objective. The Event Management Team at UC Irvine cites the objectives to “manage and coordinate significant special events or critical incidents on campus.” The police officers have objectives to “provide executive administrative leadership oversight and direction before and/or during significant events” which include “protest, demonstrations or other similar events.” They are supposed to “engage student leadership to proactively address student interests, issues or concerns.” If your protest event has a specific objective in mind, we strongly urge students to discuss these with the police department and enlist their help so students may exercise their right to free speech and assembly as their documents describe. This does not mean a protest constructed to raise grievances about a broad issue should not be treated with the cooperation and respect of the police department.
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