Although the charges against UNC senior Haley Koch were dropped yesterday, the University was right to take the case seriously.
Koch took her activism too far when former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., came to speak.
She disrupted the event and yelled belligerently while holding a banner in front of Tancredo during his speech.
In order to preserve its integrity as a forum for free speech, the University couldn’t afford to let Koch and the other protesters off easy.
To set a precedent allowing disruptive protests and utter disregard for open discourse would further damage the University’s image.
Before the incidents last spring, the University enjoyed a reputation as a place where speakers and protesters could coexist and dialogue was encouraged.
When Tancredo was shouted down, national focus went from the narrow-mindedness of his views to those of the protesters.
A peaceful protest can be a great social or political tool to sway others or raise awareness for a cause.
However, when protesters cross the line from peaceful to disruptive or violent actions, they lose both their right to protest and their credibility.
Koch’s behavior was not in the spirit of intelligent dialogue; it was childish and disruptive.
The Koch trial created a considerable amount of controversy, which is understandable.
As president of a campus group promoting Palestinian solidarity and a regular at local protests and sit-ins, Koch was fairly well-known on campus even before being arrested for disrupting a speech by Tancredo.
Although the charges were ultimately dropped, it was important symbolically for the University to press the issue.
Koch’s lawyer claimed that the University was trying to punish her for exercising her free speech and that her acquittal was an obvious decision.
The free speech claim, though, doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny. Using one’s speech to smother that of another is an abuse of free speech and should not be tolerated.
And although Koch’s case held up legally, she and other disruptive protesters will still be judged in the court of public opinion for their unquestionably immature behavior.
Peaceful dialogue is the best and only way to spark fruitful discussion. More disruptive strategies are not productive and can often lead to legal troubles.
Future protesters would do well to remember the lessons of this debacle.
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