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Civil Disobedience Versus Violence

Updated: May 14

As more universities enter the fray of institutions whose students are strongly protesting violence against Palestinian civilians in Gaza, critical thinking is needed more than ever. The press and digital media contributors to the ongoing discussion should take care to convey facts and not incendiary slogans. Not all forms of protest are legally acceptable in the United States, but also, not all forms of controlling or extinguishing them by police or other institutional authorities are legal or appropriate. These critical distinctions are quickly muted in the mainstream rush to report upon what is transpiring on campuses across the U.S.

Leadership of protests is essential. At some campuses, protestors who participate must sign an agreement to conduct themselves according to clear guidelines stipulated to by the organizers of the protest. This is the only way to ensure that protestors' right to safely practice their constitutional right to civil disobedience and protest is upheld. Conversely, there is no excuse whatsoever for police violence here; none. Our nation has been down this road before, and we should have learned from our recent history regarding violent reactions to student protest.

The administrations of campuses experiencing large protests must adhere to their own codified policies regarding peaceful protest, and should desist from alienating students who are pursuing their own beliefs in a sanctioned action of civil protest. Violence from either side, together with blanket disparaging of cultural, ethnic, religious or other identity groups cannot be tolerated. Normalization of hate speech has become a slippery slope whereby those voicing protests with less political power in a given context are held to an inconsistent standard of conduct that favors one voice over another. Given our nation's checkered past in the Middle East, American higher education leaders have an obligation to treat all of their students with equal care and respect. They must be given the benefit of the doubt to allow them to engage in the critical thinking that higher education promotes and treasures.

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