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Racism and hate speech have always managed to find a way to survive in America, past and present. It is certainly considered more taboo than it ever has been, yet it remains relevant in society in more ways than ever. Milo Yiannopoulos’ ideas and speeches are evidence of this, and his plans to speak at UC Berkeley came to a halt when some violent protesters began vandalising the area. This protest has spawned an entirely new free speech movement, aimed at supporting hate speech instead of freedom speech.
Milo Yiannopoulos recently planned a speech at the University of California Berkeley as part of his nationwide tour of speeches, focused on spreading the hateful messages of the alt-right. Gathered outside of the arena where he was scheduled to speak, students began to gather in protest of the hate speech Yiannopoulos is known for. People had decided “action be taken to stop Yiannopoulos from spreading his racist and transphobic views,” which led to the protests (Wong). However, protests soon turned violent when a group of students dressed in black began lighting off fireworks and attacking police barricades. As the new group’s protests began to escalate, it was announced that the event would be cancelled. The decision was made by Berkeley’s administration for safety purposes. But in the aftermath of the whole event, many people have been left questioning the ethicality of the entire situation.
Even though many may feel letting Yiannopoulos speak on campus was unethical, mostly due to his controversial hate oriented speeches and ideas, the administration defended his right to talk because they support the doctrine of free speech for all. This creates an argument on both sides of the scale of ethics. Some protesters argue that “the Yiannopoulos event wasn’t a matter of free speech, because he espouses hate speech,” which creates the argument that the decision to hold the event was unethical in the first place (Lah, Park). Yiannopoulous’ hate speech is the very type of speech that is the exact opposite of the doctrines of universities that supports diversity and changing ideas. However, since he is a citizen underneath the rule of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, he is entitled to the same rights of free speech that any other person would be. On the opposite end of the doctrine, Berkeley claims that it held the event to support its policy of free speech and openness to ideas, even if they are controversial. So in the end, the college’s decision to host the event adhered to their own ethical standards, as they support new ideas and free speech.
Even though the university made the decision to host the event knowing there would be controversy, another ethical dilemma regarding the property damage requires addressing. With over $100,000 in damage, writing off the expenses is not simple project for Berkeley. From an ethical standpoint, it should be the responsibility of the protestors, or more fittingly known as rioters, to pay for the damages. However, since the university exercised their right to host this speaker, they should be responsible for the damages caused by the rioting from an accountability standpoint. The university should have previously assessed the risks of hosting the event, and therefore should be accountable for any damages that can occur as a result. It is no different from a driver assessing the risks of operating their vehicles. Even though it may not be the right path from an ethical standpoint, the responsibility bore for hosting the risk makes them accountable.
Milo Yiannopoulos is a very risky and polarizing public figure, symbolic of many of the problems that relentlessly plague American society. With his most recent plans for a speech at UC Berkeley spawning violent protests, a new generation of free speech and ethicality arguments have been spawned in today’s turbulent society. These arguments will most likely never end unless everyone’s views on ethicality line up–a view hopefully all will be able to live with someday.
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