Last week, the public saw the best and worst of Tony Rackauckas. On Wednesday, the Orange County district attorney concluded a thorough yet timely investigation into the death of a homeless man, which resulted in the unusual decision to file charges against two Fullerton police officers. On Friday, in a case that never should have been filed, a jury delivered guilty verdicts against 10 of the 11 Muslim students who disrupted a UC Irvine speech by the Israeli ambassador to the United States. After one stupid incident, those students will forever have to answer yes if they are asked by, say, potential employers whether they were ever convicted of a crime.
The blame for this does not rest with the jury, whose job is to parse the evidence laid out before it. But criminal charges for unacceptably boorish behavior? Over the top. The whole sad affair has been taken too far when it could have been — and was — handled more appropriately by university officials.
The so-called Irvine 11 attended a speech at the university by Ambassador Michael Oren and, in an orchestrated attempt to disrupt his address, stood up one by one to yell out their objections. As each miscreant was escorted out of the room, another took up the verbal bombardment. Their defense — that they were exercising their own right to free speech — is out-and-out wrong. One’s right to free speech, as the courts have long held, does not extend to attempts to erase the free-speech rights of others. There were many valid ways the students could have expressed themselves, such asholding signs, challenging Oren during question-and-answer time or protesting outside the building during his speech.
The university responded by suspending the Muslim Student Union, which it found to be behind the planned disruptions, and disciplining some of the students. Job accomplished.
The students were in the wrong, but there’s such a thing as proportion. If college students faced criminal charges every time they misbehaved, we could fill the jails with undergraduates. At least the judge seemed to understand that, sentencing the students Friday to probation and community service rather than a fine or a jail term.