A video posted on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s IT network, “UW-Madison Box” to promote a student’s controversial clothing line is sparking outrage. The MacIver News Service describes the video:
The video resembles an ISIS propaganda film. It begins with two actors portraying police officers wearing pig masks lynching an African American. The police officers are then seen fleeing from a masked African-American mob carrying an ax. The next scene shows one of the men holding the bloody pig mask (still wearing the police officer cap) and a machete in the other hand. The audio from a President Trump speech and protest chants plays over the video.
The university did the correct thing and pulled the video down as it violated the rules about what can be posted on the network. Not because of the content, we would note, but because it was a commercial video unrelated to student activity.
The university went a step further in condemning the video, according to WKOW:
UW spokesman John Lucas said in a statement: “UW-Madison strives to provide a welcoming and inclusive campus environment, while allowing everyone to share ideas and political views in exercise of their free speech rights. However, the university strongly condemns the glorification of violence such as that contained in the promotion of a student-produced clothing line. We support our police partners, reject violence and violent imagery as tactics to achieve political objectives. All citizens have the rights to express political beliefs that others may find objectionable, or even counter to the values of the institution. The individual in this situation is engaging in a private business activity, unrelated to his status as a UW-Madison student. The clothing in question is not produced, nor endorsed by UW-Madison.”
In other words, the university is not responsible for the video or the clothing line, and the message of the video is not one that the university would promote.
State Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, is not satisfied. He wants the university to “act swiftly and decisively against anyone on their campus that promotes hateful actions of this type.” In addition, Nass wants an investigation by the police and the Department of Justice.
We understand the outrage over the video. It’s vile, and intentionally offensive. Unfortunately, it’s also a video depiction of the fantasies of many in the Black Lives Matters protests when they’re chanting about killing police officers as they’re marching.
But the video also does not make a direct threat against a particular police officer or even a particular police department. The video is protected free speech.
We’re reminded of something that William F. Buckley once said of college students misbehaving at Dartmouth that the problem with sophomores is that they’re sophomoric. Unfortunately, we suspect that the student, Eneale Pickett, will never grow out of the sophomoric tantrum stage of his intellectual development. We can hold the university partially responsible only to the extent that the student has so far failed to receive a good education.
We’ll add that the attention the student is receiving will only positively reinforce his behavior. That includes the attention from Nass who, ironically, uploaded the video to the state of Wisconsin’s network and then included the link in his press release.
But if Republicans in Madison are going to be sincere about protecting the First Amendment rights of students and invited speakers on UW System campuses, that means free speech for everyone.
We’re not sure what is the penalty for posting a commercial video on the University of Wisconsin-Madison network. We suspect it’s typically an email from an IT administrator threatening to revoke network privileges if it ever happens again. That’s where this matter should end.