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Hate Has No Place On Our Campus

This past Friday, for the fifth time since October, swastikas and other antisemitic graffiti have been found on our campus. It should go without saying that such expressions of hatred have no place at Nassau Community College, where we work hard every day to provide a safe environment for all members of the campus community. Unfortunately, however, as the discovery of this graffiti makes plain, it does need to be said. Not because we doubt the commitment of anyone on this campus to the part of our mission statement that reads, “[It is the goal of Nassau Community College to] create a multicultural environment which fosters the synthesis of knowledge, aesthetic appreciation, and commitment to ethical and social values,” but rather because we now have an obligation to affirm this goal in response to the actions of people who clearly do not share it. We also want our Jewish colleagues across campus, and our Jewish students as well, to know that we stand in solidarity with them against the threatening and hateful message delivered by these displays of the symbol of Nazi Germany.

We were gratified to learn, from this recording of Friday’s Nassau County Police Department press conference, that the appearance of the graffiti does not represent an increase in bias incidents in Nassau County. In fact, NCPD spokesperson Lieutenant Richard LeBrun cited statistics showing that bias incidents are down in the county relative to last year. Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the fact that whoever drew these swastikas did so in the context of what appears to be a national, post-election increase in bias incidents against not only Jews, but also Muslims, African Americans and people of color in general, women, LGBTQ people, and immigrants. The Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking reports of such incidents (here and here), and, since the election, The Chronicle of Higher Education has been monitoring those that have occurred on-campus.

On Friday, in an email to our campus community, President Keen assured us that the college will take “all steps necessary to ensure that the perpetrators are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and that Nassau Community College remains a safe haven for all students, faculty, staff, and visitors.” We are, as we are sure you were, glad to have that message. Still, it is important to remember that, unlike the graffiti with which those perpetrators defaced our campus—an E felony that carries a prison term of one to four years—not all bias incidents are actually crimes. The recent distribution of Ku Klux Klan literature in Patchogue, Montauk, and on the Long Island Railroad, for example, disturbing as it is, is protected by the First Amendment—as it should be. As far as we know, no such recruitment, or other similar attempt to spread white supremacist, neo-Nazi values has been attempted on campus. Nonetheless, the hateful message of those swastikas reminds us how important it is to make respect for difference and diversity a proactive, affirmative part of the work we do here. We invite you to join us in renewing our commitment that value.

9 Responses

  1. I thank you brothers and sisters for your timely support of our message: these expressions of hate, loaded with the implication of a political and criminal movement — are not to be tolerated ! I hope that you will join our movement for creating NCC as a sanctuary for all the vulnerable populations you list — as well as for political dissent — at this time when both are threatened from without and from within. The labor movement grew out of similar conditions in our national history; let’s bring it forward towards the re growth of freedom in this dark time.

    We all face fascism once more. As the old song said, “We did it before and we will do it again!”

  2. If you are interested in reading about how the Supreme Court has ruled on hate speech vis-a-vis the U.S. Constitutional right to free speech, please see the following.

    Debating the “Mighty Constitutional Opposites”
    Debating Hate Speech

    Hate speech is speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits. Should hate speech be discouraged? The answer is easy—of course! However, developing such policies runs the risk of limiting an individual’s ability to exercise free speech. When a conflict arises about which is more important—protecting community interests or safeguarding the rights of the individual—a balance must be found that protects the civil rights of all without limiting the civil liberties of the speaker.

    In this country there is no right to speak fighting words—those words without social value, directed to a specific individual, that would provoke a reasonable member of the group about whom the words are spoken. For example, a person cannot utter a racial or ethnic epithet to another if those words are likely to cause the listener to react violently. However, under the First Amendment, individuals do have a right to speech that the listener disagrees with and to speech that is offensive and hateful.

    Think about it. It’s always easier to defend someone’s right to say something with which you agree. But in a free society, you also have a duty to defend speech to which you may strongly object.

    Acts Speak Louder than Words
    One way to deal effectively with hate speech is to create laws and policies that discourage bad behavior but do not punish bad beliefs. Another way of saying this is to create laws and policies that do not attempt to define hate speech as hate crimes, or “acts.” In two recent hate crime cases, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that acts, but not speech, may be regulated by law.

    R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377 (1992), involved the juvenile court proceeding of a white 14-year-old who burned a cross on the front lawn of the only black family in a St. Paul, Minn., neighborhood. Burning a cross is a very hateful thing to do: it is one of the symbols of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization that has spread hatred and harm throughout this country. The burning cross clearly demonstrated to this family that at least this youth did not welcome them in the neighborhood. The family brought charges, and the boy was prosecuted under a Minnesota criminal law that made it illegal to place, on public or private property, a burning cross, swastika, or other symbol likely to arouse “anger, alarm, or resentment in others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, or gender.” The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the Minnesota law was unconstitutional because it violated the youth’s First Amendment free speech rights.

    Note that the Court did not rule that the act itself—burning a cross on the family’s front lawn—was legal. In fact, the youth could have been held criminally responsible for damaging property or for threatening or intimidating the family. Instead, the law was defective because it improperly focused on the motivation for—the thinking that results in—criminal behavior rather than on criminal behavior itself. It attempted to punish the youth for the content of his message, not for his actions.

    In the second case, Wisconsin v. Mitchell, 508 U.S. 476 (1993), Mitchell and several black youth were outside a movie theater after viewing Mississippi Burning, in which several blacks are beaten. A white youth happened to walk by, and Mitchell yelled, “There goes a white boy; go get him!” Mitchell and the others attacked and beat the boy.

    In criminal law, penalties are usually based on factors such as the seriousness of the act, whether it was accidental or intentional, and the harm it caused to the victim. It is also not unusual to have crimes treated more harshly depending upon who the victim is. For example, in most states battery (beating someone) is punished more harshly if the victim is a senior citizen, a young child, a police officer, or a teacher.

    Under Wisconsin law, the penalty for battery is increased if the offender intentionally selects the victim “because of the race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation and national origin or ancestry of that person.” The Supreme Court ruled in Wisconsin v. Mitchell that this increased penalty did not violate the free speech rights of the accused. The Court reasoned that the penalty was increased because the act itself was directed at a particular victim, not because of Mitchell’s thoughts.

    Libertarian and Communitarian Perspectives
    There is a range of approaches to when hate speech might be regulated. On one end is the libertarian perspective; on the other, the communitarian. In both R.A.V. and Mitchell, the Supreme Court took the libertarian approach.

    Libertarians believe that individuals have the right to free speech and that government should be able to limit it only for the most compelling reasons. Most libertarians recognize fighting words as an example of a sufficiently compelling reason to limit free speech. Notwithstanding the libertarian viewpoint, the courts have been careful to interpret this exception narrowly.

    Communitarians take a different approach. They believe that the community’s well-being is society’s most important goal and that an individual’s right to free speech may be limited in the interests of community harmony. They believe that treating people with fairness and dignity justifies at least some free-speech restrictions-that eliminating or reducing hate speech is a sufficiently compelling goal to justify government regulation. Communitarians would expand the fighting words doctrine to allow for increased government regulation.

    Can a middle ground be found—a way to accommodate both the communitarian and libertarian perspectives? Perhaps so. Government has the obligation to protect speech by disallowing laws that are too restrictive, yet it can also encourage individuals to respect each other.

    Success on Campus
    Here’s how one community recently approached an incidence of hate speech by calling attention to it rather than attempting to suppress it—by encouraging speech that pointed out how out of place the hate speech was in a community that values the dignity of all.

    Matt Hale, a notorious racist, was recently asked to speak at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Hale is the leader of the World of the Creator, a white supremacist group. His presence on campus was controversial. Several students, faculty, and community members thought that the university should cancel his appearance. Instead, he was allowed to speak. Hale’s audience was not impressed. He came across as having a confusing set of beliefs that were out of place in a democratic, multicultural society. Several faculty and students spoke out against his message of hatred.

    By allowing Hale to speak, the university recognized free speech rights but also provided a means for community members to respond. Communitarian and libertarian goals were both met.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Wendy. We hope you don’t mind, but we cleaned up the formatting a bit by embedding the link you provided into your text.

  3. I was a student on this campus in 1991, part-time TA after that, full-time faculty from 1999, there has always been graffiti in the student bathrooms, swastika’s and racial slurs. It’s not right and I’m not defending such destruction, but attributing it to “what appears to be a national, post-election increase in bias incidents” I believe, is in itself biased.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Paul. To be clear, though, we did not attribute the swastikas on campus to an increase in post-election bias incidents. Our point was that we cannot ignore that apparent increase—see the pieces we linked to in the original post—as the context in which the graffiti was discovered.

      1. I guess I’m not seeing the “apparent increase.” On the two SPLC pages, I see a constant decrease in the number of reported incidents, with the exception of a one or two day bump.

  4. Be it noted that such graffiti has surfaced in large numbers on campuses labeled as “left”, including Berkeley, Brown, Michigan, the various CUNY schools, and so forth. In Berkeley as well as in Ann Arbor, Michigan, this was simultaneous with radical leftists (students and non-students alike) publicly urging boycotts of all products made in Israel to protest the, quote, “Nazi like treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government”. In two incidents, Israeli products were knocked from the shelves upon which they sat. Professor Fruchter and others should not be so quick to blame these occurrences on either the Trump election, nor on conservatives in general. Alas, anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic sentiment have always been closely associated with the radical left, and in both their white and non-white branches.

    1. Dear Prof Poulios and conservative and liberal colleagues :

      Thanks for mentioning me, but I did not blame conservatives for Nazi symbols in graffiti form. Neither do I use such symbols to critique the Israeli regime, despite the fact that its Jewish Homeland Party has long been identified with fascism. Trump is no conservative but a fascist whose dogwhistles to that crew have reached the level of human hearing since he hired Bannon as chief of staff. No responsible conservative I know has anything but contempt for him. Imagine what Edmund Burke or Adam Smith would think!
      And please do not identify me with liberals. They are the ones who have imposed bans on our use of the boycott as a political tool — despite its two hundred year honorable history.

      I hope we are both independent thinkers and respectful union brothers

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