Editorial: UCR’s protest guidelines unfairly restrict students’ rights

In what can only be characterized as a vast overreaction to the Occupy Davis and Berkeley protests, both of which were marred by police violence, UCR administrators released a list of official “protest guidelines” in late November that significantly limits the freedom of students to demonstrate on campus property.  The guidelines have since been roundly criticized for their unnecessary and unconstitutional demands of students.

Among other things, they suggest that students clear protests with the Dean of Student’s Office at least two weeks before they are set to occur.  Under the guidelines, everything from location and route to management and cleanup would have to be approved by the administration prior to any demonstration.  Following an immense backlash from the UCR student and faculty community, which argued that the guidelines violated students’ right to free speech, Chancellor White decided to remove them from the site on which they had been posted.

Since then, administrators have been scrambling for a way to rectify what was clearly a rash effort to preempt violent incidents like the ones that occurred at Occupy Davis and Berkeley.  There is little doubt that they had very good intentions in mind when they drafted up the guidelines, but the notion that restricting student protest is the right way to go about preventing violence is remarkably unintuitive.  It is UCR’s responsibility to ensure that students remain safe on and around campus—not the other way around.

However, UCR’s leaders seem to be under the illusion that the primary reason that other Occupy UC protests have gotten out of hand is the student populations involved in them.  Such is clearly not the case.

So far, all of the Occupy UC protests have been exceptionally peaceful—no rioting or violence to speak of, at least not on the part of the protesters.  Police, on the other hand, have been using excessive force to remove demonstrators who refuse to pack up after being asked to leave.  Administrators at Davis and Berkeley went to so far as to allow authorities to use pepper spray and batons to disburse crowds.

Students are not the problem here, and acting as though they are is as insulting as it is unsettling.  If UCR is really interested in protecting its students from the violence of past Occupy protests, perhaps it should look into regulating the forces responsible for it.

Police should not be told to respond to peaceful protests with whatever force they deem necessary for the occasion.  True, there are some circumstances that call for protesters to be removed and arrests to be made, but not all of those situations also call for the use of pepper spray or batons.  We need a safe and reliable system for determining when authorities should be allowed to use varying degrees of crowd control tactics against UC students.

The coming weeks will reveal whether or not Chancellor White has taken to heart the onslaught of objections that followed the release of the protest guidelines.  He has organized a task force composed of students, staff and faculty to revamp the guidelines in time for the UC regent’s meeting, which is scheduled to take place at UCR next week.  The meeting, at which regents will discuss further budget cuts and tuition hikes, is sure to attract a large crowd of protesters.

We can only hope that UCR administrators have learned from their (and others’) mistakes and that our campus will not become the next victim of the police violence that has sullied the Occupy UC movement in recent months.

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