On Thursday, April 6, a group of students coordinated a protest outside of the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum at Claremont McKenna College. The Athenaeum is known for hosting a wide variety of speakers who discuss issues usually pertaining to politics and economics. On Thursday, the speaker was supposed to be Heather Mac Donald, whose speech was titled “The War on Police.” A large group of students dissented this speech and, for the most part, peacefully protested outside the Athenaeum. There was shoving of students and professors who attempted to enter the building that was being barricaded by students. The Athenaeum event was officially cancelled, but they live-streamed her speech to the student body. Approximately 250 students watched her speech and their opinions varied on her speech. Some thought she was wrong and others thought she had valid arguments on the state of police protection.
After a few hours, the protests subsided, but while Heather Mac Donald was giving her live stream inside the building, many students pushed themselves against the window, chanting, “Black lives, they matter here!” and the like.
The Athenaeum doubles as a dinner for students who wish to sign up, and some of the students who were there for the formal event — not the protest — tried to reason with the protestors. Their questions were either ignored or returned to them with poignant mantra. The protesters not only blocked the entrances but also the fire and service exits; the people inside were trapped there until the protest broke up.
The protesters mostly wielded signs, but a few held megaphones, stirring up a chorus of protesters shouting in unison. One of the favorites were, “No cops, no KKK, no fascist USA!”
Robbie Aronoff, a student at Claremont McKenna College, reported that “[e]veryone should be allowed the freedom of speech and assembly, and I think that tonight these people, while protesting for what may be a good cause, denied people the right to speak and assemble. I think that black lives do matter, but I don’t think that this is the right way to go showing that black lives matter.” His sentiment is one many other observers shared. Other students who were not a part of the protests made similar statements about their concern for freedom of speech and the right to assembly. Whenever interviewers tried to gather statements from the protestors, they received no legitimate answers.
ARGUMENT (Declared Bias: Far-Left Libertarian, Pro-BLM)
Heather Mac Donald, a self-proclaimed secular conservative, is a journalist and scholar whose 2016 book The War on Cops stirred widespread controversy. She argues that the Black Lives Matter movement is founded on false premises, such as African Americans being responsible for the disproportionately high crime and arrest rates among their own demographic cohort, as opposed to attributing the high rates to systemic oppression. Such views have been rightfully perceived as anti-black and even fascist because of her insistent push for the U.S. to embrace a law-and-order regime. The Rose Institute of State and Local Government of Claremont McKenna College (CMC) invited her to speak in CMC's Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum, although a group of about 200 protesters prevented guests from entering, resulting in the police having to escort Mac Donald out of the Athenaeum after being reduced to a live stream.
"She has refused to acknowledge the structural inequalities that have systemically oppressed African Americans for centuries, and she has specifically used policing statistics without the context of systemic oppression to create a narrative that moves from recognizing systemic violence to one of 'black crime'..."
The fact of the matter is that Mac Donald’s rhetoric cannot be tolerated and is a direct threat to the safety of black lives. She has refused to acknowledge the structural inequalities that have systemically oppressed African Americans for centuries, and she has specifically used policing statistics without the context of systemic oppression to create a narrative that moves from recognizing systemic violence to one of "black crime," which does nothing but fuel the smug, anti-black opposition to a movement whose purpose is grounded in social justice. Mac Donald fixates on crime data that shows that African Americans contribute to most of the violent crimes in the U.S., such as in New York City, where according to Mac Donald, three-quarters of all shootings  were done by African Americans. She presents such data without any context to the structural reasons why crime is prevalent and instead slaps an assumption that African Americans are inherently violent and need “law and order.” It is a known phenomenon that crime, poverty, and unemployment are interconnected . The Black experience in the U.S. is marked with structural injustices that perpetuate poverty and subjugation, and therefore it is not surprising that crime is prevalent. Law-and-order policies that include a partiality to mass incarceration does nothing but perpetuate this cycle. Mac Donald also does not recognize the fact that African Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be shot and killed by police officers  or that over 40% of all unarmed people  who have been a victim of a police shooting are black men — even though black men only make up 6% of the U.S. population. The sheer disproportionality of the bloodshed is a result of inherent biases within the systems of power in the U.S..
"Letting her speak at the Athenaeum would have only resulted in the perpetuation of a narrative that is inherently violent."
Letting her speak would have resulted only in the perpetuation a narrative that is inherently violent. Any individual who claims that the shutdown of her talk infringed on her freedom of speech or discourages “dialogue” does not recognize the biases of institutions that encourage certain ideas to be marketed and expressed while others are not. The protest on Thursday was the resistance necessary to combat racist and reactionary ideas that institutions can promote. The question lies not in whether we need a marketplace of ideas, but rather what ideas are put on the market. Dialogue cannot happen if the ideas promoted and presented are there to marginalize others. Giving Mac Donald the stage only perpetrates the violence that her views espouse and Claremont McKenna College would have been an accomplice to promoting an offensive ideology. Institutions are not neutral spaces and, we must expose and critique them to assure that in the struggle of ideas, the experiences of marginalized groups are not drowned out in a sea of reactionary hullaballoo.
Kamil Lungu is a Politics major from Pomona College. In addition to writing for the Radius, he is a member of the DNC's National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Council and is a director of the Claremont College's chapter of Young Progressives Demanding Action. In his spare time, Kamil enjoys making latte art, reading the New Yorker, and collecting LPs and CDs — his favorite find being a Japanese bootleg of David Byrne's Feeling.
Photography by Jen Hanki