UC Davis English Professor Joshua Clover has some pretty wacky hair, studies critical theory and Marxism, and also has a penchant for comments like “I am thankful that every living cop will one day be dead, some by their own hand, some by others, too many of old age #letsnotmakemore,” “I mean, it’s easier to shoot cops when their backs are turned, no?” and “People think that cops need to be reformed. They need to be killed.”
California Assemblyman James Gallagher and Ron Lawrence, a local police chief, united to deliver about 10,000 petitions to get Clover fired to the UC chancellor’s office. But Chancellor Gary May responded to Gallagher, saying “Professor Clover’s statements, although offensive and abhorrent, do not meet the legal requirement for ‘true threats’ that might exempt them from First Amendment protection,” reported Campus Reform.
So I think this largely comes down to semantics. Saying cops need to be killed is different from telling someone to kill a specific cop — UC Davis apparently spoke to legal counsel and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re applying the Brandenburg test, which accounts for both the language someone uses as well as the likelihood that the language results in violence. More on that in a moment. Chancellor May continues, saying:
“UC Davis places a high value on civility in the academic community, but the desire to promote these values does not outweigh the rights of professors to express themselves on political issues, even if their expression is deeply repellent to members of our community and the public.”
The school also cited Trump’s recent executive order, which threatens universities that violate free speech with a loss of federal research grant money and was made after a conservative got punched in the face on UC Berkeley’s campus. But I don’t know, something tells me Trump wouldn’t be in favor of a professor saying cops “need to be killed.”
So the real question you should be asking yourself here isn’t “oh, does saying cops ‘need to be killed’ technically fall under the First Amendment?” No, the real question is: if these remarks were made about any other group, blacks, Muslims, etc., would UC Davis apply the same standard?
University of California, Davis
Prof: Cops ‘Need To Be Killed’…Police Chief Responds
UC Davis Professor Joshua Clover has said “I am thankful that every living cop will one day be dead, some by their own hand, some by others, too many of old age #letsnotmakemore,” “I mean, it’s easier to shoot cops when their backs are turned, no?” and “People think that cops need to be reformed. They need to be killed,” reported Campus Reform.
Now, I think that most people would agree that saying you’re thankful for cops dying is rude, but not illegal. I’m no legal expert, but saying “they need to be killed” just might cross into incitement to violence and I think you’d be hard-pressed to count that as some kind of scholarly “academic freedom.”
Anyway, California Assemblyman James Gallagher and Ron Lawrence, a local police chief, teamed up to send around 10,000 petitions to the University of California chancellor’s office to try to get Joshua Clover fired.
Now I’m pretty much a free speech absolutist, so while this guy’s comments are outrageous, that’s not actually the most compelling argument for me for why he should be fired. Imagine Joshua advocating for the death of pretty much any other group: women, gay people, Muslims, Jews — he’d be out of that cushy job in a flash. But nowadays there are a few groups like police officers, men (if you remember this HuffPo staffer’s tweet), and whites (if you recall this University of Georgia TA’s remarks about “fighting white people is a skill” and “some white people may have to die”)…it’s somehow acceptable to make these kinds of statements about these groups but not others.