Tancredo protest under investigation in North Carolina
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. ” Investigators are determining whether charges are warranted after a raucous student protest broke up a controversial speaking appearance this week by former Republican presidential candidate Tom Tancredo, the University of North Carolina chancellor said.
Chancellor Holden Thorp sent an e-mail to students and faculty Wednesday saying an investigation might result in criminal charges or campus honor court charges against students.
“Our Division of Student Affairs is also investigating student involvement in the protest,” Thorp wrote. “If that investigation determines sufficient evidence, participating students could face Honor Court proceedings.”
Tancredo, known for his unwavering stance against illegal immigration, was invited by a student group to speak Tuesday about his opposition to granting in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants.
Protesters shouted profanities and unfurled banners as the former Colorado congressman tried to address an audience in Brigham Hall. Police eventually halted his speech and had to use pepper spray after demonstrators broke a window.
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Thorp said the university also will study how to manage controversial what to do for future controversial speakers.
“There’s a way to protest that respects free speech and allows people with opposing views to be heard,” Thorp wrote. “Here that’s often meant that groups protesting a speaker have displayed signs or banners, silently expressing their opinions while the speaker had his or her say.”
Thorp as well as UNC System President Erskine Bowles called Tancredo to apologize.
“He appreciates their apology,” Marcus Epstein, executive director of Tancredo’s political action committee, Team America PAC, said Thursday.
Epstein said Tancredo hoped to be invited back and urged students responsible for the disruption be disciplined.
UNC Chapel Hill board chairman Roger Perry said the protesters’ behavior was “shameful” and that everyone should have a right to speak on campus.
Tyler Oakley, a graduate student who helped organize the rally, said the protest was peaceful and successful.
“It was only when confronted with police brutality ” pepper spray, Tasers, and pushing ” that the protest intensified to a pitch that might be called disorderly,” Oakley said in an e-mail.
Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in North Carolina, said the protesters engaged in “de facto censorship.”
Rudinger said Tancredo had a right to express his views on immigration as much as students at N.C. State had the right to paint racist remarks about President Barack Obama on a campus tunnel.
“Censorship is not the answer to hate speech. Hate speech is protected by the Constitution,” Rudinger said.