Gerald Doane; Speech is not always free
Recently a university newspaper, along with local and national news, revealed the publication of hate, bias and threatening speech on the part of a tenured professor employed by a California public university advocating the death of police officers.
In 2014 the professor tweeted, “I am thankful that every living cop will one day be dead, some by their own hand, some by others, too many of old age #letsnotmakemore.”
Again in 2014 he tweeted, “I mean, it’s easier to shoot cops when their backs are turned, no?”
In a 2016 interview, the professor said, “People think that cops need to be reformed. They need to be killed.”
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Asked to defend his previous comments, considering the 2019 murder of a police officer in the community where the university is located, the professor responded, “I think we can all agree that the most effective way to end any violence against officers is the complete and immediate abolition of the police.”
In another statement the professor said, “On the day that police have as much to fear from literature professors as black kids do from police, I will definitely have a statement.”
I strongly believe in the professor’s right of free expression. As a private citizen he can say anything he wants to say up to and including expressions of hate, bias, and the killing of police officers. I will ignore him if I don’t like his speech.
In expressing his hate, bias, and advocacy for killing police officers, implied or direct, as a private citizen or as a public figure, he not only faces the wrath of the public, but is vulnerable to slander, libel and threat laws as well.
My concern is that the professor linked his platform as a member of a state-operated university to advocate for the unlawful killing of human beings.
The professor’s comments are probably not violations of any law. But they could be serious breaches of a code of ethical conduct, or cannons of ethical behavior, or policies of the institution which employs him.
Most public institutions have codes of conduct and policies that regulate employee conduct, including speech. Congress is a perfect example. Member speech on the floor of Congress is immune from slander and libel laws but member conduct, including certain speech, is regulated by Congressional rules. Violations include sanctions such as censure, loss of privilege, i.e. committee membership, and even expulsion.
The assessment of the professor’s comments about killing police officers belongs in the halls of the university that employs him. There, his speech can be addressed to determine if it violates policy and then the institution can decide what sanctions to impose.
My concern is not with policy, but with the enforcement of that policy. Institutions have a way of protecting their own, more so if the member is privileged. Perhaps a more transparent process is needed when privileged, i.e. tenured professors, are accused of violating policy.
I imagine the professor doesn’t believe police officers are human beings. Could one imagine if the target of his vile comments were members of a protected class, say the LGBTQ community or a race, or a religion, say the Jewish religion?
One might conclude that speech advocating the killing of police officers is not a serious matter. In the 1960s and 1970s, the rhetoric was quite common. “Death to Pigs” and other more incendiary rhetoric was in vogue. In the 2010s, it was “Fry them like Bacon” or other such nonsense.
Problem was, much killing of officers ensued after the rhetoric. Many are too young to recall the 1960s and 1970s, but there were numerous police officer executions during this period. I know from firsthand experience that ambushes, bombings, and precinct invasions were the methodology used by those who acted out the rhetoric.
More recently, both in Dallas and Baton Rouge, there is evidence that rhetoric had a direct effect into the killing of eight police officers and wounding of at least 12 in those two communities, all within a 10-day period.
The rhetoric of public officials matters greatly. Professors must set an example for us all. It is unacceptable for any official who represents or is a member of any state-operated university to engage in rhetoric that promotes hate, bias, and the unlawful killing of human beings.
There must be severe sanctions by the institution when such rhetoric occurs.
Every member or affiliate of a public university, every concerned citizen, should report any offense by using the institution’s reporting procedure.
Gerald G. Doane lives in Grass Valley.
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