Forum on hate speech at UCF

 

Shown here (l-r): UCF Deputy Police Chief Brett Meade, ADL Southeast Region Counsel David Barkey, Hillel Director of Community Relations Sam Friedman, Central Florida Hillel CEO Aaron Weil, and ADL's Florida Region Associate Director Lonny Wilk.

By Caleb R. Newton

The University of Central Florida (UCF) community has been hit a few times recently with anti-Semitic or otherwise racist incidents. The incidents include anti-Semitic vandalism at the end of last year, and, according to police, personal attacks on African-American students.

In this light, the Anti-Defamation League, working in concert with the UCF Office of Diversity and Inclusion, hosted on Monday, April 18, a forum called "The Power of Symbols: When Hate Visits Our Community." The forum was a panel discussion with Central Florida Hillel CEO Aaron Weil and Hillel director of Community Relations Sam Friedman; Deputy Police Chief Brett Meade; and David Barkey, the Anti-Defamation League's Southeastern Area counsel. The discussion was moderated by the ADL's Florida Region associate director, Lonny Wilk.

A focal point of the discussion was to understand the breadth of what hate speech is, as understood through symbols, and what that means to citizens of Central Florida. The panelists spent a bulk of the time discussing responses to these symbols. They answered questions like, "How can one tell what speech is free, and what is just hate speech?" and "What is an appropriate response to hate speech?"


According to the panelists, it is "important to remember" that you are, in the United States, "free to be a bigot." Hate speech crosses into the realm of hate crime when it is accompanied by an actual criminal act. For example, calling a Jewish person a derogatory term is not against the law. But when that speech is accompanied by a physical assault, then it becomes a prosecutable hate crime.

This distinction helps to protect free speech, which is, at least in theory, a foundation of American society. This distinction, however, is not to say that pure hate speech should not be taken seriously. Often, as noted, hate speech leads to actual hate crimes, either on the part of the person who first uttered the words or on the part of someone who overheard and took the incitement.

Meade emphasized that his department wants to know about hate speech for precisely that reason. He said that he will work "1000 percent" with any person who brings such a report to him, citing his ability to do so in most circumstances because of his working "very closely with various aspects of the university."

These "relationship webs" are an important part of what all the panelists cited as the best defense against hate speech. Maybe hate speech is not illegal, but it is virulent. So, what should be done against it, according to the panelists, is more speech. More speech that is strongly standing against hate together with everyone in the community. As they stated, an attack on one group is an attack on every group. Laws can't do everything to help us. We must stand up ourselves and refuse to just be "bystanders."


Weil had this to say, the conclusion of which was met with a round of applause, "I'm not concerned about racism. Racists out themselves. What does worry me and keep me up at night is the response to this racism. Back in the '30s and '40s, Hitler wasn't the danger, and it wasn't just warmongering that led to the war that killed tens of millions. The real danger was the resounding shrugging of the shoulders from the people of Germany and the rest of the world. Today, the same questions that we ask those who watched millions be killed must be asked. And if any school or job comes before standing up to hate, it's time for a serious reality check."

The UCF campus is not as bad as some other areas, such as the University of South Florida. Still, as the panelists emphasized, no hate can be tolerated, and the community should continue to be built up to fight it.

Caleb R. Newton is a global affairs analyst living in Central Florida and the founder of Global News Breakdown. Find him at Bipartisan Report, Dissecting Society, and the Times of Israel. Contact him at calebrnewton@globalnewsbreakdown.com.

 

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