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Editorial: Free speech provokes discussion
The events from Charlottesville remind us of racism
August 31, 2017
Illuminated by the flickering of their torches in the night, they surrounded the statue and made themselves clear. At the forefront of the gathering was self-identified alt-right member Richard Spencer. “We are a people,” Spencer said. “We will not be replaced!” Uproarious agreement echoed throughout the night in response to his words.
The throng formed upon hearing of Charlottesville’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a downtown park. What’s problematic is not the gathering, but how tiki torch-wielding white supremacists, also on scene, evoked Ku Klux Klan and Nazi imagery through their behavior.
The first thought that may come to mind is one of horror. Horror that such an event could ever occur; horror that, from some points of view, people would violate the concept of free speech in such a way; horror that such despicable beliefs could possibly still exist. Indeed, events like this might even call into question the fact that the “right to free speech” protects all, including those who espouse such hateful views. But it is important to remember that the protection of free speech, no matter how horrific that speech, has always served as a mode for discussion.
But it is important to remember that the protection of free speech, no matter how horrific that speech, has always served as a mode for discussion.
In a time when people are clamoring for change they want in this nation, it is important to acknowledge the existence of the opposing view, no matter how repellent that view may be. And in cases like Charlottesville, some might argue that we should silence these views because they do not exemplify the morals of the this country. Recognizing these views exist, even though they are repellent to the majority of Americans, can bring about positive change. Only if we acknowledge the existence of all beliefs, can we eventually resolve these issues, including racism.
Freedom of speech, a constitutional right guaranteed by the First Amendment, prevents federal, state and local governments from restricting expression. But outside the realms of the merely theoretical, things can get a little complex. Institutions can’t exactly regulate what you say, but they can regulate how and where you say it. And that’s what Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer did in response to the aforementioned protests; he swiftly condemned “this intimidation,” stating that “such intolerance is not welcome here.”
While Charlottesville’s racist protesters were not in the right, they still brought the nation’s and the world’s attention to issues we need to solve.
But there are restrictions to what you can and cannot say. There are limitations restricting the First Amendment; for one, you are no longer protected if you use “fighting words.” Fighting words are defined as “words which would likely make the person to whom they are addressed commit an act of violence.” In the case of Charlottesville, it is clear that the hateful language on the scene was not protected by the First Amendment.
The horror of Charlottesville brought to light important issues in our nation — issues we would like to believe no longer exist. Before the event, some people were in denial of the fact that racism was still a pressing issue, but now the issue of racism is back in the forefront. And while Charlottesville’s racist protesters were not in the right, they still brought the nation’s and the world’s attention to issues we need to solve.
Let’s take this issue back in time. In 1969, the LGBT community rioted on the streets of New York City to protest the lack of rights given to the LGBT community. At the time, this was considered an offensive view and also did not exemplify the views of all Americans. But yet, their protest brought about change.
Charlottesville has sparked a discussion about a topic that this nation needs to face.