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Civil rights groups call for charges against UConn students to be dropped

STORRS -- Civil rights groups and the ACLU are calling for charges against two UCONN students to be dropped. They say the racial slurs they allegedly yelled outside the Charter Oak apartments just weeks ago are wrong, but protected by free speech.

The two students who were arrested are charged with a misdemeanor are scheduled to appear in Rockville Superior Court on Wednesday.

But the ACLU is calling for those charges to be dropped.

This video of two UCONN students shouting racial slurs outside of UCONN apartments went viral sparking outrage and protests on campus and ending in two arrests for hate speech, which carries a possible fine of $50 or 30 days of prison time, or both. Now the ACLU is calling on the charges to be dropped saying the conduct reported in this incident is reprehensible, but it isn’t illegal and that the first amendment protects offensive and hateful speech if it doesn’t incite violence, criminal harassment, or true threats.

David McGuire Director of ACLU from CT says:

“The University of Connecticut administration’s response to racism on the Storrs campus is wholly inadequate and incomplete. UConn administrators and government actors are hiding behind two arrests instead of taking action to stop racism on campus.

The UConn NAACP has provided administrators with a list of eight feasible steps university officials can take to enact structural changes that support Black students and all students of color on campus. These include creating a requisite First Year Experience course focused on ending racism on campus, updating the Student Code of Conduct to create specific guidelines about racism and hate speech, hiring at least 10 Black faculty and staff, protecting students who have exposed racism on campus, investigating the fraternity where a student targeted another with a racial slur and holding that fraternity accountable accordingly, requiring public apologies from that fraternity, issuing a statement condemning racist acts on campus, and that the university complete all of these tasks by the Spring 2020 semester.

Policing is an inherently white supremacist institution, and we remain skeptical of its ability to address racism and bigotry. Under existing free speech case law the students who were arrested will almost certainly not be convicted, making it imperative for the university to immediately address racism on campus, including but not limited to these recent incidents.

As a public institution, UConn bears a constitutional responsibility to ensure students of color have equal access to education, which means equal access to a learning environment where they are safe. To date, the school has not taken the steps necessary to fulfill that obligation, and until its internal disciplinary process is complete, it remains to be seen whether the school will take adequate action to hold the two arrested students accountable.”

David Cole, the national legal director of the national ACLU added:

"Although the conduct reported in this incident is reprehensible, it is not criminal. The First Amendment protects even offensive and hateful speech, so long as it does not rise to the level of incitement to violence, criminal harassment, or true threats. Nothing in the press reports indicates that the students’ speech, while morally abhorrent, meets that demanding standard. The ACLU has long supported robust constitutional protections for speech, including speech we vehemently oppose."

Stephanie Reitz, UCONN’s Spokesperson says the arrest was legal:

“As you know, law enforcement officials are obligated to investigate potential criminal matters and present the results of their investigations to the chief prosecuting official, who determines whether there is probable cause to charge an individual with violations of existing law. Section 53-37 of the Connecticut General Statutes was enacted by the Connecticut legislature and remains a valid law to this date. 

Before an arrest warrant is executed, it must be approved by a judge.  That process was followed in this case.

UConn is committed to providing a safe, inclusive, respectful place in which all people can learn and work. The recent incident is a reminder to all that this work is never done, neither at UConn nor in our society.

The University continues to take many steps to strengthen and enhance diversity on our campuses, and listening to the voices and experiences of our students is a critical piece of that work.

For instance, we recently announced our plans to seek our next Chief Diversity Officer, and are meeting with students individually and in groups for their feedback. The University also continues to refine its plans and goals with respect to healing from this incident, supporting its students and achieving its strategic goals when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

The police action is unrelated to those efforts.”

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