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Slow response letting campus violence fester

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As “free Palestine” protests spread across campuses – complete with 1960s-style sit-ins and takeovers of classrooms and quads – university officials throughout the country have struggled to handle the disruptive mess. Risk averse administrators have been loath to use a firm hand, even when protesters have intimidated Jewish students and created a hostile campus atmosphere.

It’s not hard to imagine a quicker response had, say, white students targeted minority students because of their ethnicity or religion. But elite campuses – steeped in the ideology of oppression – are unprepared to deal with current reality. We’re sympathetic to college administrators who want to allow the widest expression of free speech, but we blame them for letting the situation get out of hand.

Protests are fine and, regardless of the merit of any particular cause, have long been a part of the college experience. Intimidation of other students is not fine. Occupying classrooms likewise is not acceptable. Nor is setting up tents cities in universities’ public spaces. It’s never OK to use violence and bullying. Shutting down classes – as Humboldt State recently did – merely succumbs to mob rule.

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On Thursday, UCLA sent Los Angeles police officers to clear out a massive encampment. Tensions escalated as counter-protesters joined the fray. “Police launched flares that arced over the encampment, igniting with piercing blasts, and smoke filled the air from fire extinguishers that demonstrators sprayed at police,” per the Los Angeles Times. “At least one officer is seen on video shooting rubber bullets into the crowd.”

We don’t often agree with Gov. Gavin Newsom, but he was right to point out the obvious: “The right to free speech does not extend to inciting violence, vandalism or lawlessness.” He called for the instigators to “be held accountable… including through criminal prosecution, suspension or expulsion.”

Again, by allowing the situation to spiral out of control, the university set the stage for violence – and for a heavy-handed police response. We’re not pleased by any of it, but the ultimate fault lies with students and outside protestors who refused to follow the basic rules of university civility.

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