Editor's Note:Prophetically, Eugene Volokh addressed student's First Amendment rights and the fallacy that those rights extend to attempts to incite violence in a recent post at The Volokh Conspiracy.
The opinions expressed below by Mr. Burnette in no way expresses the views of the Campus Echo, its editors, the adviser, or N.C. Central University. They are solely the opinions of the writer.
The Campus Echo has a policy of accepting opinions submissions from NCCU students, faculty, staff and community members and respects their freedom of expression according to the First Amendment.
It's difficult to imagine that the call for physical violence by Burnette, whose criminal history includes an arrest for punching his mother in the face and convictions on drug, armed robbery of two Duke students, and probation violation charges, would not fall under the narrow categories of unprotected free speech.
Public universities are bound by the First Amendment. Thus, both public university students and public university teachers are entitled to some protection from discipline, firing, and other retaliation for their speech. In some areas, this protection is pretty clear and pretty broad. In others, it’s relatively vague. Student speech outside the classroom and outside academic assignments. Most clearly, students generally may not be expelled, suspended, or otherwise disciplined for what they say in student newspapers, at demonstrations, in out-of-class conversations, and the like. The Supreme Court made this clear in Papish v. Board of Curators, 410 U.S. 667 (1973), and Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169 (1972). Lower courts have followed suit, especially in the late 1980s and 1990s cases that have struck down student speech codes. See, e.g., Dambrot v. Central Michigan Univ., 55 F.3d1177 (6th Cir. 1995); Iota Xi v. George Mason Univ., 993 F.2d 386 (4th Cir. 1993); UWM Post v. Univ. of Wisc., 74 F. Supp. 1163 (E.D. Wis. 1991); Doe v. Univ. of Mich., 721 F. Supp. 852 (E.D. Mich. 1989).Of course, student speech may be restricted if it falls within the narrow categories of speech that’s generally unprotected (e.g., threats of violence, personal face-to-face insults likely to cause a fight, or intentional incitement of imminent and likely unlawful conduct).
By calling for "Death to all rapists" in response to the exoneration of the Nifong/Mangum Hoax defendants, Mr. Burnette clearly exceeds the bounds of free speech with his call for black men, women, and children to fight physically against the white race.
The only deterrent to these legally, socially and economically validated supremacist actions is the fear of physical retribution.
Black men, stand up. Black women, stand up. Black children, stand up. We have been at war here with these same white people for 500 years.
The time to fight, whether intellectually, artistically or physically, has always been now.
It should be noted that today's decision to merely print a disclaimer, rather than pull the call for violence, follows expressions of concern addressed with the campus police and mental health departments in light of the timing relative to the Virginia Tech massacre.
In a note to the NCCU Mental Health Department, one observer wrote:
Dear Dr. Moore,A visiting professor expressed his fear to NCCU Chief of Police, Glenda Beard:
As a mental health worker in Houston I was alittle taken aback by Mr. Solomon Burnette's op-ed piece in the Echo. In light of Virginia Tech and your own warnings to students (see Echo, NCCU assures students), I would think it prudent to at least check in with Mr. Burnette and see if he is OK. I say this also understanding that he does have some violence in his past.
"Dear Chief Beard,One commentator to this blog likened the Campus Echo's decision to that of NBC's in airing the hate manifesto of Seung-Hui Cho.
I am the director of a non-profit here in Durham, and I have been a frequent guest professor on your campus. My organization and NCCU are partners in several important projects in science and Digital Libraries. We also have hired several NCCU students as interns.
Given the recent violence at Virginia Tech, and the call to be vigilant, perhaps, and knowing how often I am on your campus, someone sent me a copy of this opinion piece from your campus newspaper, with a note saying I should be careful:
I am concerned this person could be trying to incite violence in Durham, or at NCCU against visitors to your campus.
What do you advise since I am coming on Friday as a guest panelist for the Digital Library meeting?"
This guy is seriously disturbed. It was irresponsible to publish his intentionally inflammatory remarks. Giving him a platform to spew his hatred and encourage physical violence is as bad as NBC airing the VT killer's video. Where has responsible journalism gone?Given the timing, comparisons to Virginia Tech, fair or not, are unavoidable and add another level to the disappointment in the Campus Echo's decisions to publish the work of violence in the first place and to stand by the message of hate after concerns and fears were raised to campus authorities.