Shifting Paradigms of Protest: When Free Speech Turns to Violence

The University of Virginia recently released an official response to the August 11-12, 2017 events that occurred when violence broke out during white supremacist demonstrations on campus. The situation was particularly concerning and terrifying due to the fact that many of the white supremacist demonstrators were carrying lit torches on the Charlottesville campus. This is not an image that pops into mind when considering a “peaceful” demonstration. As illuminated in the document:

The events of August 11 and 12 resonated so profoundly across the nation and around the world because they represented not only discrete incidents of violence but also stark evidence of a larger paradigm shift.

The official response includes observations and suggested improvements to University policies and practices in the case of such violent situations. It also recognizes that the University Police Department was caught off-guard by protests that took a violent turn. As explained in the introductory paragraph of the University’s response, questions have been raised as to “why University leadership did not respond to the situation earlier and more aggressively.”

Following the violence that erupted on August 11 and 12, the University of Virginia Deans Working Group sought to answer those questions. The group critically analyzed the response to the violent demonstrations on campus, and came up with three areas of improvement: intelligence used to analyze the situation as it was developing; University policies regarding protests and demonstrations; and the application of existing University protocols for responding to a demonstration of a violent nature. In-depth analysis on each area of improvement, future steps, and key policy actions are included in the full response.