Search
share
Search
Encampments & Civil Disobedience

Date

source

share

When I stepped into the fray of police violence against peaceful protesters at Emory University on April 25, 2024, I didn’t think I was about to engage in civil disobedience. I just felt compelled to witness and document what was unfolding: armed police suddenly attacking a peaceful gathering that had been in place less than a few hours. One moment it was all kumbaya, some chants, some tents, people milling around on a beautiful spring morning; the next it was utter mayhem. I stepped into the fray and watched in horror as police attacked a young student trying to cover her head with her hands as they took turns lifting and then smashing her head to the ground. I did everything I could to witness and tape the scene without raising any alarms, knowing well how police work, my posture neutral, me standing a good distance from the scene, as I repeatedly yelled “stop.” Then one one of the cops stood up and looked me in the eye and said, “Ma’am, you need to step back.” I took a few seconds to think this over very carefully and then, knowing it would not go well, said, “No.” That was my civil disobedience.

This month I’ve discussed civil disobedience on two podcasts: the Overthink Podcast hosted by two philosophers in California and the Philosopher’s Zone produced by Australia’s public broadcasting network ABC. At first I did not get the connection. What did the student demonstrations about Gaza have to do with civil disobedience? They weren’t disobeying any laws since surely there is no law against freedom of expression. In fact there is a constitutional amendment defending it. Nor was there any Emory rule against pitching tents on the quad.

Protesting itself is not an act of civil disobedience. But the refusal to accept subsequent, illegitimate criminalization of free expression is civil disobedience.

Now I realize that it was me and the other onlookers who stood up to protect the students who were engaged in civil disobedience, along with the demonstrators who refused to leave the scene. This was only possible because the administration and the police suddenly rendered it a crime scene. Their rationale was that “outside agitators” had infiltrated campus and so everyone was told to avoid the campus quadrangle. So then anyone who remained on the quadrangle after this sudden criminalization of the space was guilty of criminal tresspassing.

Think about this end-run around the first amendment protection of free expression and assembly. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” It seems that while Congress may make no such law, the president of a university can. He or she can decide, even absent any policy, to prohibit and render illegal rights to speech and assembly that were free one moment and criminalized the next.

Many of us were charged with disorderly conduct even though we were simply standing alongside. How were we being disorderly — especially me — just standing there witnessing? It was when I said “no” to the directive to step away, that’s when I was being disorderly. As I wrote in an op ed for the Wheel, if the order to which I was being disorderly was the normalization of police brutality, then this order is utterly dystopic. So, yes, I am guilty of civil disobedience. And the “disorderly conduct” charge can only be legitimate in a dystopic universe.

Originally appeared on gonepublic: philosophy, politics, & public life Read More

More
articles

More
news

Time’s Cycle

A. Everything comes round again be it good or ill; changes come only when old returns, the cycle to fulfill....

Time’s Cycle

A. Everything comes round again be it good or ill; changes come only when old returns, the cycle to fulfill....

Time’s Cycle

A. Everything comes round again be it good or ill; changes come only when old returns, the cycle to fulfill....

Time’s Cycle

A. Everything comes round again be it good or ill; changes come only when old returns, the cycle to fulfill....