Panelists discuss justification of police force during Speak Up, Speak Out forum


Central Michigan University Black Lives Matter chapter President Jazmyn Williams speaks during the Speak Up! Speak Out! panel Nov. 14 in the Bovee University Center Auditorium.

An ethical struggle will follow every time the words "justify" and "force" appear next to each other, said Speak Up, Speak Out panelists.

The Speak Up, Speak Out event "Justifying Force" addressed physical and verbal aggression during protests Nov. 14 in the Bovee University Center Auditorium.

Samuel Raisanen, an economics faculty member, moderated the discussion among 75 audience members and five panelists:

  • Robert Noggle, philosophy and religion faculty member 
  • Sterling Johnson, political science faculty member
  • Lt. Cameron Wassman of the Central Michigan University Police Department
  • Jazmyn Williams, CMU Black Lives Matter chapter president
  • Cali Winslow, Students Advocating Gender Equality president

When the topic of using violence in response to hate speech was brought up, Noggle cited the Nov. 9, 2016 incident where white supremacist Richard Spencer was punched in the face by a protester. 

"I understand the guy wanting to punch the neo-Nazi. I want to punch a neo-Nazi, but that doesn't make it right," Noggle said, explaining preemptive violence isn't justifiable in the presence of inciting language.

Williams continued with a distinction between violence by emerging neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements and the Black Lives Matter movement.

"If you understand right from wrong, then you should understand that one group is trying to spread positivity, while the other group is trying to tear down everyone else that doesn't look like them," Williams said. "There are going to be people who think Black Lives Matter is a violent terrorist group, and there are people who are going to agree with neo-Nazis."

When it came to discussion on the first amendment, Winslow offered a social, rather than lawful, solution to a national controversy.

"Criminalizing (hate speech) isn't the way to go," Winslow said. "We need to be making a climate where it is unacceptable and where we stop giving credence to these ideas as if it's a balanced argument."

Midland senior Jeremy Rodgers didn't believe the panel itself was giving the topic a balanced argument and spoke out regarding a bias he sensed on the panel. 

"There are people with different viewpoints, who if they're not on the panel, won't have their issues brought up," Rodgers said. "When you have a majority of liberals on the panel, it makes it difficult for conservatives to feel like they are free to voice their opinions." 

Rodgers has been a part of panels before, and said the university is aware most panels on campus lean liberal. 

"I think they have a desire to make it more diverse, but there should be an easy way to say, 'There's five people on a panel, at least two of them should be of a conservative or republican viewpoint.' That's how you have a more balanced panel," he said. 

Detroit senior Daeshean Ashby also used his voice as an audience member during the discussion to ask and answer questions.

"Seeing protests today and seeing how they're handled in regard to the presence of force motivated me a lot to speak out," Ashby said. "Protests are a very important thing in my life,. A lot of the actions (of the Civil Rights Movement) helped me get the rights I have today."