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Colleges Are Spreading Trump’s Disingenuous Notion of ‘Free Speech’

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In February 2018, Tala Deloria and several other young people at the University of California–Los Angeles protested against Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s very wealthy, more-or-less-openly corrupt Treasury secretary, who was due to speak on campus about the US economy.

Deloria, 24, and her fellow activists hadn’t planned on going inside the auditorium—they wanted to protest Mnuchin outside the event space with other activists. But there were seats available, and at the last minute, Deloria and a few others from the local chapter of Refuse Fascism (part of the Revolutionary Communist Party) decided to go in.

She sat in her seat quietly at first, but she couldn’t take hearing Mnuchin talk anymore without being challenged. So Deloria began yelling at Mnuchin about the Trump administration’s cutting of social programs and detaining of immigrants. UCLA’s police force quickly moved in, picked Deloria up under her arms and legs, and dragged her away. Several others began shouting in her stead. They were arrested too, and brought to a holding room for several hours. UCLA banned the protesters from campus for seven days.

Deloria was surprised by the arrest, but thought it was all over after she was released—until six months later, when Los Angeles prosecutors filed a host of charges against her and her fellow protesters, including trespassing, resisting arrest, and disturbing the peace. “I’m pretty furious,” Deloira said recently in an interview. “Not only because of what happened to me, but because this is part of bludgeoning the right to protest and the right to speak out.”

Last week, a Los Angeles jury found all defendants not guilty. But the fact that UCLA pressed charges for peacefully disrupting an event may foretell a grim future for campus politics. There’s no official tally, but this appears to be one of the first instances in which protesters on a college campus were charged for nonviolent, nonthreatening behavior that involved no property destruction or violence but only a simple heated exchange of words. “I’m angry because the university is at the helm of this,” Deloria said. “It’s gonna affect me, but it’s also gonna put a chill on speech across the US.”

Jerry Kang, UCLA’s vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion, said that by arresting the protesters, the university was following its lengthy speech and protest policy document, which guarantees a right to speak and protest, but draws the line at disrupting a speaker.

“We want serious critique and conversation, but we want persuasion and not coercion,” Kang said in a recent interview. “We make very clear that we understand and celebrate protest, we understand the need for people to state their case, it’s just when the protest becomes so disruptive that it’s essentially an act of force that silences the speaker from reaching a willing audience, that we can’t permit that to happen.”

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