Black Lives Matter protesters shut down an American Civil Liberties Union discussion on free speech at the College of William and Mary last week before it even began.
“Students and the First Amendment,” co-sponsored by William and Mary’s Alma Mater Productions (AMP) and the ACLU, styled itself as “an open discussion of the rights of college students” and an opportunity to learn “more about what our individual rights and liberties are.”
The September 27 event featured Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, the executive director of the Virginia chapter of the ACLU, as a guest speaker.
The ACLU states that its mission is “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States,” and while it has opposed numerous Trump Administration policies, it has also drawn criticism from the left for its support of First Amendment rights for all citizens, including white nationalists.
Moments after Gastañaga began speaking, 14 members of the college’s BLM chapter filed into the front of the room, some dressed in black clothes.
“Good, I like this, this is good.” Gastañaga commented before resuming her speech. “I’m going to talk to you a little bit about knowing your rights, protests, and demonstrations, which this illustrates very well.”
The protesters quickly formed a line obscuring the stage and began to shout, “A-C-L-U, you’d protect Hitler too!”
Later, the protesters shouted “shame!” as they held signs obscuring their faces, including a large banner that read, “blood on your hands.”
After twenty minutes of chanting everything from “the revolution will not uphold the Constitution” to “liberalism is white supremacy,” one of the event’s student hosts gave the protesters a microphone, which the protesters’ spokeswoman used to condemn the ACLU’s support for the constitutional rights of white supremacists at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“When is the free speech of the oppressed protected?” she asked. “We know from personal experience that rights granted to wealthy, white, cis, male, straight bodies do not trickle down to marginalized groups. We face greater barriers and consequences for speaking.”
After ten minutes of continued chanting, the hosts cancelled the event.
“It was a collective decision from people in the AMP leadership team and our advisers,” Miguel Dayan told The Flat Hat, “It was clear that we [were] unable to continue with the event, and it was appropriate to cancel.”
After the cancelation, students in the audience approached Gastañaga and attempted to ask her questions and discuss the protest. The BLM protesters promptly encircled the students, chanting to prevent Gastañaga from responding to their questions and concerns. One student told The Flat Hat that at this point, the protest bordered on “physical intimidation.”
The protesters continued shouting for almost an hour until all but a few attendees had left the room. After livestreaming the protest on its Facebook page, “Black Lives Matter W&M” took responsibility for disruption, writing, “Tonight, we shut down an event at William & Mary.”
“It’s not just the ACLU that has done this, it’s liberal organizations,” the BLM group said in a statement provided exclusively to The Black Voice. “Most liberal students on this campus believe that white supremacy should be valued as free speech, as discourse, and we firmly disagree with that.”
In a statement to Campus Reform, the ACLU declared that it had been “pleased to accept the invitation and looked forward to making the presentation and answering questions on a wide range of topics,” but was “disappointed that we didn’t get the chance to provide the information that the students asked us to present.”
“We have a campus where respectful dialogue, especially in disagreement, is encouraged,” wrote William and Mary President Taylor Reveley, in a statement following the protest. “Unfortunately, that type of exchange was unable to take place Wednesday night.”
Noting that BLM had “drowned out students” who tried to ask the speaker questions, Reveley declared that “silencing certain voices in order to advance the cause of others is not acceptable in our community.”
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