Op-Ed: When a Berkeley Law debate on free speech got turned into a social media circus Read more
“We should not tolerate hate speech, and we should not allow hate speech to be presented as opinions,” Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates wrote in a Facebook post.
“If we can’t distinguish between statements that incite violence and statements that merely make it more likely that violence will happen, then we don’t have a country.”
Bates, who is chair of the Berkeley Unified School District, has been under fire in the past for his support of sanctuary city policies and has come under increasing scrutiny for his comments made on campus, which include calling Black Lives Matter protesters “silly” and a group that wants to use a “knee-jerk” response to anti-immigrant protests “un-American”.
In response to the criticism, Bates released a statement on Wednesday that he had “spoken out against the hateful rhetoric that has been expressed at Berkeley,” and that he was “a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion.”
“I have a deep and abiding belief in the ability of free speech to help us grow as human beings. I think the debate over free speech has been greatly amplified by online platforms like Facebook and Twitter,” Bates said in the statement. “I believe that the responsibility to protect the right to free speech is not limited to universities. I want to be clear that my belief about how the world ought to be, is an essential part of who I am and always will be.”
In his post, Bates argued that campus free speech is especially threatened when student protesters turn on those who disagree with them, and that “the world doesn’t have to come to an end for us to stop debating.”
According to The New York Times, Bates’ statement did not address the specific criticism that he had criticized a number of protesters who had been involved in incidents of violence at the campus recently.
The post drew responses on Facebook that ranged from the supportive to the angry, with some arguing that Bates did not understand the distinction and that “it’s a fundamental First Amendment right to protect others from being harassed or assaulted.”
The controversy also drew attention from Twitter users and news outlets, including the Guardian and the