The Berkeley Puncher is a ’cause celebre’ in the conservative press and social media. Keith Burris, editorial director of Block Newspapers (owner of the Toledo Blade) wrote an op-ed about the ‘war on tolerance’ and used the violent incident in Berkeley as an illustration of ‘both sides’ doing it and it should stop. I wrote a letter-to-the-editor in response.
Hayden Williams, a so-called conservative activist was punched in the face while tabling at the University of California-Berkeley on Feb. 19 for the group Turning Point USA. The puncher was arrested and the legal process needs to go forward.
I wrote a letter-to-the-editor and an edited version was published on March 8, 2019 on page A6 of the Toledo Blade. Due to the editing a couple important points were left out.
Here is the full text of the letter I submitted: (words edited out of the printed version are in BOLD)
Keith Burris wrote in his essay “The war on tolerance” (published March 3rd) that tolerance was “accepting, championing, the same right to speak, assemble, and think for your neighbor as you would assert for yourself,” but he wasn’t exactly correct.
Tolerance really means that you may not agree or accept someone’s views but you won’t try to suppress them or force them to change their views. There is no requirement for accepting a view different than your own to be tolerant.
Tolerance also doesn’t mean you can say anything you want anywhere you want and avoid negative feedback. People might throw fruit, call you names, send you death threats, counter protest, force you to buy your own platform to speak, or they may try to assault you like what happened to the student and the BBC reporter described in Burris’ essay. Violence over speech is wrong and in most cases illegal, but don’t assume the group the student belonged to was just a random conservative student group minding it’s own business.
Turning Point USA isn’t tolerant of those who hold views differing from it. TPUSA has been accused, according to a New Yorker article, of violating spending cap and transparency rules at different college campuses by funneling “dark money” into student government elections and may have broken campaign finance laws to help the Republicans in 2016. TPUSA also has a “Professor Watchlist,” a McCarthy-ist website featuring professors at universities across the country who TPUSA says “discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”
The sign at the school booth said “Hate crime hoaxes hurt real victims” and like a similar sign, “All Lives Matter”, it is what is implied that caused the student to be challenged. It was a commentary on the Jesse Smollett hate crime incident. It’s not a coincidence that many conservatives, like members of TPUSA, believe that all hate crimes are hoaxes. Had the sign been at the booth of the college LGBTQ group, the intent would have been perceived quite differently and much less negatively.
The student was looking for new members for his group AND he was looking for a confrontation at one of the most liberal colleges in the country. He wasn’t looking to be hit in the face to be sure, but he isn’t as innocent as the conservative press and Keith Burris implied.
One can’t draw conclusions just from one side of the story.
The edited version might sound like I was blaming the victim. He shouldn’t have been punched in the face but it seems to me it was like a guy pouring gasoline on the ground while smoking who then claims to be a victim when the gas catches fire and burns him.
Tolerance can’t exist when people try to provoke a response from the other side(s) by using provocative or inflammatory language. Williams did that with the “Hate crime hoaxes hurt real victims” sign.
Obviously Burris and the rest of the conservative press have no idea what tolerance really means.