When Does ‘Hate Speech’ Encroach on ‘Free Speech’?

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Protests Wednesday night at UC Berkeley prompted university officials to cancel the scheduled speech by Milo Yiannopoulos. This self-proclaimed “supervillain of the Internet” and reckless provocateur at Breitbart News does not discuss or exchange differing viewpoints with the audience; he simply spews incendiary and extremely offensive vitriol (a.k.a. ‘hate speech’) to stir up his base of bigoted, like-minded haters.  Two weeks ago on Friday, January 20th, the University of Washington in Seattle capped off its “MLK Week 2017“–in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.–by holding a discussion with Kathleen Cleaver, Civil Rights activist and African American law professor, at the Kelly Ethnic Culture Center. In 1967, Cleaver was the first woman to join the Central Committee of the Black Panther Party. Juxtaposed to this “signature event”, which was cosponsored by Seattle Office for Civil Rights ‘Race and Social Justice Initiative’, was a speech by Yiannopoulos held at the same start time just 1,600 feet (500 meters) away at Kane Hall. UW College Republicans received official approval to invite this overt misogynist, racist, and homophobe (ironic given he is an openly gay man). Just the day before, he was scheduled to speak at Washington State University in Pullman. WSU cancelled the speech, not due to the outrage and protest of his hateful rhetoric; it was because of inclement weather.

 

If this hatemonger is so verbally abusive, why do universities and colleges allow him to speak at their halls and auditoriums? What are the responsibilities of an institution in letting a controversial figure speak publicly, whose beliefs are based prominently if not solely on hatred and antagonism? What are the vetting criteria and discretion of guest speakers in regards to the guiding principles and restrictions pertaining to ‘free speech’ under the First Amendment? With regards to public safety, what is the justification of allowing harmful and inflammatory speech, especially in light of a current climate of divisiveness and hostility?

 

There is no definitive answer, at least not one that has been unambiguously defined under the First Amendment, or unanimously agreed upon by the Supreme Court of the United States. You would have to look at individual court decisions to determine which cases ruled in favor of or against the use of ‘hateful speech’. Here is an excerpt of the U.S. Constitution First Amendment ‘Permissible Restrictions on Expression‘:

 

Fighting words—defined as insults of the kind likely to provoke a physical fight—may also be punished, though general commentary on political, religious, or social matters may not be punished, even if some people are so upset by it that they want to attack the speaker. Personalized threats of illegal conduct, such as death threats, may also be punished.

No exception exists for so-called hate speech. Racist threats are unprotected by the First Amendment alongside other threats, and personally addressed racist insults might be punishable alongside other fighting words. But such speech may not be specially punished because it is racist, sexist, antigay, or hostile to some religion.

 

I have not studied law—let alone Constitutional law. As a layperson, my understanding and interpretation of the First Amendment is that ‘hate speech’ is not explicitly or implicitly defined. The phrase “might be punishable” under the ‘Permissible Restrictions on Expression’ gives latitude to “so-called hate speech”. Consequently, persons and groups can speak publicly about their superiority or denigrate another group’s race, sexual or gender orientation, political affiliation, or religion so long as it does not incite violence or threaten the livelihood of people.

 

Erik Tucker, who covers the Justice Department for The Associated Press, wrote this piece on the not-so clear delineation between ‘free speech’ and ‘hate speech’ as it pertains to how federal law defines ‘hate crimes’: “How federal law draws a line between free speech and hate crimes“. Searching the web, you are more likely to find an article like the one by Eugene Volokh which explains why “hate speech” is permissible under the First Amendment: “No, there’s no “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment“. If hate speech was clearly defined and deemed unlawful then the former Republican nominee and current U.S. President would be guilty of engaging in hateful speech and incendiary tweets many times over.

 

 

A week following the right-wing provocateur’s speech at UW, host of Seattle’s KUOW ‘Week in Review’, Bill Radke, brought up the controversy on the Friday, January 27th show with guest panel: Hanna Brooks Olsen, Seattle writer/feminist; Randy Pepple, Republican strategist; and Seattle Council Member Lorena Gonzalez. The debate about ‘free speech’ versus ‘hate speech’ begins at 18:30 into the show, but it’s worth listening to the full 53-minute podcast “This week we’re rehashing the first days of Trump’s presidency“.

 

Upon playing a clip of the hateful speech at Kane Hall, Radke started by asking Olsen if the University of Washington “should have allowed this man to speak.” The crux of Olsen’s argument for why UW should have cancelled the event is because “it’s a false equivalency to say ‘we allow free speech on both sides’ when one [side] is demonstratively hate speech.” Olsen added “there’s a difference between things I disagree with, and things that are actively hurtful. And things that create an unsafe space on campus.” When Radke argued that “Milo Yiannopoulos would say it’s not actively hurtful to say obnoxious tired jokes,” Olsen responded: “Telling women to kill themselves is actively hurtful.” [Notwithstanding the assertion of telling women to kill themselves, there are many other extremely misogynistic, racist and abhorrent things he’s written (on the conservative fake news site of Breitbart), and tweeted–so offensive, in fact, that Twitter permanently banned him. Here is a sample of what went on at Kane Hall.]

 

It was the Council Member’s turn to give her perspective. CM Gonzalez, who is trained in Constitutional law and as a Civil Rights lawyer, urged to “look at the First Amendment with the understanding and context that there are restrictions. It’s not an unfettered right to free speech.” She also raised the concern “about whether the University of Washington went through the rigor it should have in its First Amendment evaluation of this particular event.” With regards to public safety CM Gonzalez offered “Your tactical response in that environment has to be commensurate with that level of heat and passion that is coming from both sides.”

 

When Radke asked if his “speech was too threatening to be allowed”, CM Gonzalez did not go as far as Olsen in saying UW should have prohibited him from speaking, but she went on to explain “If… you know what the contours and the depth and the significance and the weight of that speech is going to be then you, as a public institution, have a responsibility to make sure that everybody is safe. Not just the people who are delivering the speech, but also the people who are there to protest the speech.” Gonzalez thought “the mark [with regards to the university’s public safety preparedness] was not met.” [Note: There was a large presence of protesters at Red Square, outside Kane Hall. One of the protesters got into a heated altercation with a Trump supporter, who reportedly was trying to get in to see the sold-out speech. During the scuffle, the Trump supporter shot the protester.]

 

Radke asked the Republican strategist his thoughts on the topic. Repple thinks Yiannopoulos is “obnoxious and stupid”, but he does not feel his contemptible and vile rhetoric should be restrained. He basically said ‘it’s only hurtful if you allow it to hurt you’.  Repple’s solution to protesting ‘free speech’ that you don’t agree with is to “vote with your feet. Don’t go [to the event].” In other words, he thinks we should dismiss callous and hateful speeches as nothing more than inane and distasteful talk, whether or not it is directed at us. And if we let it affect us–if we let it get under our skin–then it is our fault for being fragile and insensitive. In Repple’s mind, the verbal offender has no accountability for the vicious things he says. Moreover, he thinks we should demonstrate our First Amendment right to protest by ignoring the offensive antagonist and staying home. It is an absurd and dismissive argument for allowing ‘hate speech’.

 

Putting Milo’s harmful and irresponsible venom into perspective: Yiannopoulos is so extremely racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, transphobic and homophobic that the Twittersphere gods could no longer tolerate his hateful and reckless tweets so they permanently revoked his Twitter license. Yet notorious Islamic hater, Pamela Geller, is allowed to espouse her unbridled anti-Islamic propaganda in the Twittersphere via her verified Twitter account.

 

So what is ‘hate speech’? It doesn’t just offend a person or group; it is deep-seeded antagonistic hostility consistently expressed and aimed at a persons’ race, gender, lifestyle, religion, and/or ideology. It is not just the targeted venom and weight of a verbal assault; it is a repetitiveness of a maliciously sharp-tongued attack –no matter whether explicit harm is intended or not. Words–like actions–have consequences. Cyberbullying is just as harmful as bullying. And psychological violence is as destructive as physical violence.

 

To say ‘hate speech’ is free speech’ is no different from claiming ‘cancer cells‘ are ‘normal cells’. Why? Because early signs of cancer, when left unchecked, become tumors–often malignant. And untreated cancer–especially aggressive forms–eventually kills the patient. Unfettered hate speech will proliferate and spread like cancer. However, illnesses and diseases do not always manifest into cancer; and combative dialogue does not always escalate into hate speech. The empowerment and self-regulation of social media, cloaked in anonymity, beckons a closer look at the diagnosis and accountability of hate speech. Part of the solution in curtailing hurtful speech is to be more civil, open-minded, and accepting of our differences. Is that so difficult?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Freedom is an endless horizon, and there are many roads that lead to it”

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Screen grab from “The Last Word” aired on October 26, 2016: DeRay Mckesson (left); David Archambault II (right).

 The title for this piece was taken from a speech delivered by Shirley Chisholm at Howard University on April 21, 1969Shirley Chisholm was a trailblazer for African American women: she was the first Black Congress woman to serve in 1968; four years later she became the first African American to run for president. Chisholm was also the first woman, along with Patsy Mink, to seek the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1972.



 

Late in August 2016, news started to trickle in about the Dakota Access Pipeline protest on the sacred land of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Weeks would go by before it gained traction in mainstream media. Yet during the three presidential debates–aired on September 26th, October 9th and October 19th–the moderators (and their news organizations) did not consider it worthy or important to ask the candidates their views on the fight taking place at Standing Rock. Perhaps the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, and Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, also agreed not to discuss the ongoing protests in North Dakota. Credit goes to Green Party nominee, Jill Stein, who joined the protesters and even had a warrant issued for her arrest when a video turned up of her spray-painting a bulldozer owned by the oil company.

I could not help to think how little attention is given to North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. As a whole, the concerns and well-being of the indigenous people living within the United States borders are ignored. And their rights are consistently abused or dismissed, much like the rights of other non-white Americans. For the people of Standing Rock Sioux nation, their main concern with the Dakota Access Pipeline plan–to transport up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil a day from North Dakota to Illinois–is the risk of contaminating clean water. The hashtag which has gained momentum on social media–#WaterIsLife–is a consequence of the ongoing dispute between the native tribe and the oil company. Polluted water has a crippling and rippling effect: it poses a danger to the land, the surrounding wildlife and the lives of local communities. Not only does the construction of the DAPL ignore the sanctity of the tribe’s land, it threatens the ecosystem. The same environmental concerns can be said of the Keystone XL pipeline, which was designated to carry crude oil from Alberta, Canada to Texas. However, that plan was eventually rejected in 2015 by President Barack Obama. The key difference between Keystone Pipeline and Dakota Access Pipeline is that the former proposal was designated to cross international borders and cover almost 3,000 miles (to be built in three phases) to the Gulf of Mexico–as opposed to 1,170 miles for DAPL. Consequently, Keystone required stricter scrutiny by the Environmental Protection Agency. Ironically, the EPA, and two other federal agencies, addressed their concerns regarding the Army Corps’ DAPL design; however, there was insufficient public backlash to make it hold.

Wednesday night, I watched The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell. In a later segment, he brought in David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, to discuss the struggles of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Sitting next to Dave Archambault was Rev. Mark A. Thompson, the only African American talk host on SiriusXM Progress with Make It Plain. Then he did a satellite interview with Black Lives Matter civil rights activist, DeRay Mckesson, who had announced his endorsement for Hillary Clinton in this  op-ed: Why I’m voting for Hillary Clinton.  O’Donnell drew a parallel with the growing pains of the Black Lives Matter movement and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s fight for civil rights. There was a bridge of hope in Mckesson’s message when he urged Archambault to “Keep the fight”. Mckesson also reminded the audience that the protesters who gathered and united in the aftermath of the police shooting and death of Michael Brown in August 2014 “were in the streets [of Ferguson, Missouri] for over 350 days”. There was sincerity in Thompson’s voice as he turned to Archambault and said “I’m in solidarity with my sisters and brothers at Standing Rock.” Adding “There is some historical foundation for that. All of our struggles are similar. And there is some intersection. We know the police and law enforcement have been brutalizing the people at Standing Rock. And have treated Native Americans around the country the same way they have treated African Americans. So we all should stand together.” Thompson reiterated the need for patience and discipline when he mentioned “The Montgomery bus boycott was [a campaign that went on for] a year.”  The boycott actually endured for a year and 15 days from December 5, 1955 to December 20, 1956.

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Screen grab from “The Last Word” aired on October 26, 2016: DeRay Mckesson (left); Rev. Mark A. Thompson (center) and David Archambault II (right).

Lawrence O’Donnell has been discussing the ongoing fight for freedom at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation well before the other TV news programs, including MSNBC and elsewhere, started to cover the protests. Kudos to O’Donnell for visiting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, and for continuing to report on this important matter. He deserves credit for comparing the similarities with the protests which led to the Black Lives Matter movement to the battle for clean water and civil rights at Standing Rock.

 

Here is The Last Word video segment on October 26th covering the Sioux Tribe fight and Black Lives Matter movement.

 



Chisholm said “Freedom is an endless horizon” because the asymptotic curve of transformational change never quite reaches the axis of true equality. The “many roads” she referenced “that lead to [freedom]” is part of the endless pursuit for a more tolerable and accepting culture through various forms of activism–protests, policy changes, education, and voting.


 

 

 

Have we come a long way?

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25 years ago Anita Hill courageously testified in front of an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee about the sexual harassment of nominee, Clarence Thomas. This sexual harasser has been a Supreme Court judge for quarter of a century during which time little has changed in the attitudes, understanding and perceptions regarding rape culture, domestic violence and sexual assault against women.

In an interview two months ago with Steve Inskeep on NPR’s Morning Edition, Anita Hill mentioned “We’ve come a long way since then,” in that “It is now part of the public conversation.” Racism and xenophobia are also part of public discourse, in large part, because of extreme views and hostile posturing from the Republican presidential nominee: In turn, it has riled up the base of his base supporters. Just because it is part of national conversation, doesn’t necessarily mean we are making progress. But at least it is out in the open instead of crouching in the shadows like a predator waiting to pounce on the next victim.  We can still move this conversation forward and slowly raze the walls of white male privilege and ‘boys will be boys’ behavior. STOP using language and misconceptions that reinforce these harmful attitudes and deplorable stereotypes toward females. Think about how it affects girls and women; it’s not enough to seek justice and to punish sexual predators.

As Anita Hill pointed out in a recent op-ed: “At virtually every dinner table this weekend, people talked about what should happen to Donald Trump’s political ambitions. But little consideration was given to what impact the brutish behavior he claimed to have had on the women he victimized. How many of them talked about Arianne Zucker, the young woman in the leaked video who Bush cajoled into hugging the same two men who had just joked about forcibly kissing her? Did she know she was the butt of a sexual gag?”

 


Reference

http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2016/10/10/what-can-still-learn-from-sexual-harassment/jCF5rxYbFMgE3bOKR984pI/story.html (October 11, 2016)

http://www.law.com/sites/almstaff/2016/09/13/25-years-later-anita-hill-on-sexual-harassment-pay-equity-and-title-ix/ (September 13, 2016)

http://www.npr.org/2016/08/10/489359818/anita-hill-weve-come-a-long-way-since-then (August 10, 2016)

You can be humane and eat meat. It’s not humane to kill animals for sport.


I love animals, and I’m a meat eater. I tried vegetarian for 15 straight months in 2007 to 2008, even going vegan at times. It was the best I could do, and it gave me time to reconcile my respect for animals and accept eating meat that is mass-produced and slaughtered. I am not equipped with the know how or living situation to hunt my own food and plant my own crops. Moreover, my dietary philosophy–esp. having been through intense chemo in 2012 and 2013–is focused on a well-balanced diet that includes marine and land meat as well as produce (legumes, vegetables and fruit) and supplements to maintain nutritional equilibrium. I’m against recreational, sport and trophy hunting (a.k.a. killing animals because it gives you a “high” or a false sense of being superior). If you’re going to hunt animals, do it legally for sustenance, and do it fairly with cunning and with handmade tools like a bow and arrow.

Humane Society Legislative Fund is the lobbying arm for the Humane Society, so clearly they are playing the political game, which in U.S. politics is the most effective tactic, or perhaps the only way, to push their agenda in Congress. Maybe that is why they are endorsing Hillary Clinton and not Green Party nominee, Jill Stein, or the Humane Party nominee, Clifton Roberts. And Roberts is the only true vegan candidate. Jill Stein is a vegetarian who eats fish (a.k.a. pescatarian) and dairy on occasion; however she appears to have a more robust platform in comparison to Roberts’ seemingly more narrow-focused leftist policy proposals. Given Jill Stein’s medical background and her involvement in politics, one could argue she would be more savvy than Roberts with a greater likelihood of gaining “inside” support so to speak. I’m not a huge fan of Hillary Clinton, but I know she has the “stamina”, perseverance and a more favorable than unfavorable track record to get change done in Congress, even if it requires playing both sides of the coin from time to time. Realistically, the first woman president has to be more centrist and resilient from a well-established group that can use some of her cerebrospinal fluid to reinforce the weakening backbone of the Democratic party. Candidates like Hillary Clinton pave the way for candidates like Jill Stein. True change–in uprooting the legacy of elitism, racism and murder that gave birth to this country–can propagate beyond the thin veil of legislative protection, particularly as it relates to non-whites and women, when the U.S. breaks away from a two-party system.

 


References

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2016/10/11/the-humane-society-calls-a-trump-presidency-a-threat-to-animals-everywhere/ (October 11, 2016)

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/green-party-candidate-slams-obama-trump-clinton-article-1.2640149 (May 19, 2016)

https://np.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/4ixbr5/i_am_jill_stein_green_party_candidate_for/d31zvo1 (May 12, 2016)

http://2016.candidate-comparison.org/?compare=Roberts&vs=JStein