Victory for Free Speech at Cal Courtesy of SFL Member!

Most regular pedestrians of Sproul Plaza have probably noticed that the University of California Police Department (UCPD) has been cracking down on bicyclists in recent weeks, handing out dozens of tickets to students in violation of the university’s “Dismount Zone” policy. A relatively unknown and ignored rule, the Dismount Zone is a designated area on south campus where bicyclists are required to walk instead of ride their bikes during the heaviest hours of foot traffic on weekdays. So, when Jim Allen, an active member of our club, saw UCPD Sean Aranas officer hypocritically violating the university’s Dismount Zone policy by riding a bike in Dwinelle Plaza last month, he got a little frustrated and decided to express his annoyance. Here’s how Officer Aranas described Jim’s subsequent actions in his official report:

I was on duty, in full police uniform, and was riding a marked patrol bicycle. I was riding 5-10 mph in Dwinell[e] Plaza. Subj. walk[ed] 7′ past me and said to me in a hostile voice, “Walk your fucking bicycle!” I ask[ed] subj. to stop and ID himself and he complied. Subj. confirmed he had been using profanity and talking to me because he did not believe police should ride bicycles in dismount zones.

UCPD: Crime protector or Constitution violator?

As you’ve probably guessed from the report, Jim was cited for allegedly breaking the
Student Code of Conduct, despite the fact that Officer Aranas could not pinpoint the specific policy Jim was in “violation” of. Having heard about the ludicrous violation
of Jim’s First Amendment rights later that afternoon, I immediately contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-profit group that protects civil liberties on college campuses, of which I am a former intern. Thanks to Jim’s dedication to liberty, FIRE’s help, and sensible bureaucrats at the Student Conduct and Community Standards office, Jim’s charge was completely dropped the next week– a much-needed victory for free speech, ironically at the home of the Free Speech Movement.

Although some would object to the content of Jim’s speech, especially being directed at a police officer, it is nevertheless protected under the First Amendment. Thus, the dropping of the charges brought against him are a symbolic reminder of how all constitutional speech should be protected, regardless of the perceived “obscenity” or “disrespectfulness” of the speaker. After all, one cannot truly be a defender of free speech if he or she does stand up for it even in the most uncomfortable of circumstances. Perhaps John Stuart Mill put it best when he made this observation in On Liberty: “Strange it is, that men should admit the validity of the arguments for free discussion, but object to their being ‘pushed to an extreme’; not seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case.”