The Facebook event invitation left little doubt about the protesters’ feelings toward pro-police speaker Heather Mac Donald.
The last words on the invite, which has since been deleted, offered instructions to like-minded Claremont McKenna College students and others: Show up wearing black and “bring your comrades, because we’re shutting this down.”
They were true to their word. On Thursday evening, about 250 protesters chanted “black lives matter” and other, more choice phrases at the entrance to the Athenaeum, a campus building where Mac Donald was slated to speak, according to a YouTube video of the demonstration. (Warning, it contains strong language.)
Blocking buildings on the California campus is an arrest-able offense, but seeing the sizable crowd, campus officials decided not to force the issue and instead live-streamed Mac Donald’s event.
“We jointly concluded that any forced interventions or arrests would have created unsafe conditions for students, faculty, staff, and guests,” Claremont McKenna College President Hiram E. Chodosh said Friday in a statement. “I take full responsibility for the decision to err on the side of these overriding safety considerations.”
The demonstration was the second time this year that a large-scale protest has targeted a conservative speaker on a college campus.
In February, a planned speech by conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos was canceled at University of California at Berkeley because of virulent protests.
The protests at the two colleges illustrate a potent challenge for college administrators, who want to expose their students to a wide variety of opinions, but take heat when those efforts backfire.
“The breach of our freedoms to listen to views that challenge us and to engage in dialogue about matters of controversy is a serious, ongoing concern we must address effectively,” Chodosh said in the statement to students.
In an extensive interview with the campus newspaper, the Forum, Dean Peter Uvin said the university thought that a group of students might protest or even try to disrupt the speech, but campus police weren’t prepared for the hundreds that showed up. Video from the scene showed a heated but peaceful protest, and there were no reports of arrests.
As the nation has been entrenched in a heated conversation about whether officers are too quick to use fatal force on blacks and other minorities, Mac Donald has emerged as a strong conservative voice speaking against what she called “phantom police racism.”
In her book “The War on Cops” and in her live-streamed speech Thursday, she said black-on-black crime is a bigger threat to African Americans than police violence. A disproportionate amount of crime happens in black communities, she told students at Claremont McKenna, and modern policing is driven by data, not racism.
She also argues that an outsize focus on police brutality has caused police to back off on proactive policing measures that brought huge crime drops across the nation. “Criminals,” a synopsis of the book says, “are being emboldened.”
“There is no government agency more dedicated to the proposition that black lives matter than the police,” she said in a speech last year at Hillsdale College that has been viewed on YouTube nearly 25,000 times. “We have been talking obsessively about alleged police racism over the last 20 years in order to not talk about a far larger problem: black on black crime.”
Mac Donald didn’t respond to requests for comment made by The Washington Post.
In February, after Yiannopoulos’s speech was canceled, a recently sworn in President Trump denounced Berkeley’s actions, and raised the specter of denying federal funding for the public university.
Claremont McKenna officials said they were most troubled that the demonstration blocked access to the building entirely.
“It’s deeply disturbing, what happened tonight,” Uvin said in his interview with the college newspaper. ” … I understand [students’] anger and pain in many ways, but as I wrote in my email, this is not the way to go about it. Not in general, and even less so at a college.”
College officials said it’s against campus policy to block access to a building, and students who did so on Thursday could be disciplined.