The Washington College Of Law’s Embarrassing “All Lives Matter” Freak-Out

"I can't believe you would say that!"

“I can’t believe you would say that!”

A law professor at D.C.’s  Washington College of Law at American University, who is identified with civil rights issues, discovered that someone had posted a handwritten flyer reading “All Lives Matter” on his door.

The Horror.

A normal, proportionate, hinged, response would be to ponder the multifaceted nuances of those three words, muse quickly about why anyone would feel moved to leave such a message anonymously, and worry about the Nationals starting pitching, perhaps.  Ah, but this is 2016, so hinged is uncool and so 2008. Thus the faculty member complained to the Dean and the faculty, who both felt that writing  “all lives matter” on a flyer is perilously close to hanging a noose or writing KKK or burning a cross:  Racial harassment and intimidation!

Quoth Claudio Grossman, the Dean:

The circumstances and manner of placing this flier on a community member’s door do not involve the kind of civil and thoughtful discourse that we encourage and aspire to in our community, and indeed may serve to intimidate others and discourage their full participation in the marketplace of ideas.

No member of this community is permitted to engage in harassing, intimidating or threatening behavior towards any other community member. The person who posted this flier did so anonymously and surreptitiously, at a time and in a manner that, regardless of his or her actual intent, had the effect of harassing and intimidating that faculty member as well as others – students, faculty, and staff alike – who seek and deserve to study and work in a safe and non-threatening environment.

I strongly encourage continued discussion and debate about race and our justice system and about any and all issues of concern to our diverse community. But this discussion and debate must happen in settings and forms that serve to promote discussion, not stifle it, and that make all members of our community feel empowered, safe and free to express their views.

Freaketh out the WCL faculty:

The “All Lives Matter” sign might seem to be a benign message with no ill intent, but it has become a rallying cry for many who espouse ideas of white supremacy and overt racism, as well as those who do not believe the laws should equally protect those who have a different skin color or religion. Importantly, the phrase “All Lives Matter” has been used in direct response to “Black Lives Matter,” a human rights movement that has become synonymous with protests over police killings of unarmed black men and boys.  The phrase seeks to convey the fact that black people are not expendable, even though the use of lethal force by some in law enforcement suggest that black lives do not matter as much as the lives of other people they encounter.  In a perfect world, no one would have to be reminded that black lives matter because all lives would be treated with the same respect and dignity.

Leaving an anonymous sign on a professor’s door is not an acceptable way to have a discussion about controversial issues.  Talking about controversial and divisive issues can be very difficult, but we must have these conversations in a respectful way.  Also, we must be open to being educated about diverse perspectives. Conversations on race, gender, sexual identity, and nationality will occur in a wide range of classes.  Our faculty must continue to facilitate discussions on these topics, and we remain committed to healthy dialogue and debate. We recognize that there is room for respectfully disagreeing with others’ perspectives.  Approaching someone and definitively stating your view as if there is only one possible perspective on the issue is not conducive to a constructive dialogue.  There is value in simply asking someone, “If you feel comfortable, I would like to talk to you sometime about X.  I have been reading a lot about the topic, and I am interested in hearing your perspective.”  Few would take offense at your non-confrontational invitation to have the conversation.  The diverse law school environment is a place to perfect the level of civility that should permeate our personal and professional lives.  We hope that everyone at WCL will communicate with each other in a way that embodies our core values of diversity, inclusion and tolerance.

Learning of this latest escalation in the chilling of free speech on campus and the determination to make university students quail in fear over disturbing the “safe space” of suddenly hyper-delicate black students, Gail Heriot and Peter Kirsanow of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, speaking on their own and not in their official capacities,  wrote to Dean Grossman, saying in part…

“The response of American University faculty and staff was nothing short of Orwellian…Nearly sixty members of the law faculty and staff signed a letter calling this an ‘act of intolerance,’ because it refers to ‘all lives’ rather than only ‘black lives. This makes American University look foolish. Even sillier, the letter calls this obviously true statement — that the lives of all members of the human species are valuable — ‘a rallying cry for many who espouse ideas of white supremacy. While we know that President Obama has stated that ‘all lives matter,’ we are not personally aware of any cases in which white supremacists (a rare species these days) have made that statement. Equating a student making a legitimate and utterly unobjectionable point with a white supremacist is nonsensical.”

The one undeniable statement in the message from Heriot and  Kirsanow is This makes American University look foolish.” Does it ever. I taught legal ethics for two years at the Washington College of Law, and my first thought when reading this story was, “Well, there’s one resume credential I won’t be including any more!” If the faculty and dean of a law school can’t reason any better than this, what likelihood is there that the school is any damn good? Would you trust a lawyer who was trained to think like this?

Here, let a former faculty members clear up some things:

1.. Context is everything. I explained in an earlier post a context in which “All lives matter”could be legitimately deemed dismissive and worthy of an apology:

If an activist says to me, “too many children go to bed hungry!” and my retort is, “Too many people go to bed hungry!”, the unspoken argument is “So stop acting like children are a special problem!” If I say, “We need peace in Syria,” and a friend’s response is “We need to end war, period!”, I view that as an effort to minimize my concerns by launching it from the realm of a specific issue into vague, generic territory.  “Black Lives Matter!” in the context of recent police episodes where African Americans died under circumstances that many believe show police callousness and excessive force against blacks is a distinct assertion that suggests that the law enforcement and justice systems do not currently function as if black lives matter as much as white lives. It is true that “All Lives Matter” includes the larger subset “black lives matter”; it is also true that it blurs the issue at hand, and dilutes the protesters’ point.

Even this, however, could not possibly be called “harassing, intimidating or threatening.” In the context described above, it is disagreement—perhaps callous disagreement, perhaps cowardly disagreement, but still only that. The message on the door has no context, however. I cannot be definitively said to mean anything.

2. Freud said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,’ and sometimes, perhaps even most of the time, a sign that says “All Lives Matter” is just a sign that says “All Lives Matter.” In fact, legal reasoning would begin with that assumption: after all, res ipsa loquitur.

3. What could “All Lives Matter” mean out of a specific context? Let’s see…

  • It might mean that black lives don’t mean any more (or less) than any other lives. This is undeniably true, and meaning this, the statement is benign and inoffensive.
  • It might be code for “white lives matter more than black lives,” according to the Dean, because, he says, “some” mean it that way. The words do not mean that, however. Does a meaning that contradicts the words of a statement prevail over the clear meaning of the statement’s words because of that statement’s use by “some”? That doesn’t comport with my understanding of contract construction, or any other legal construction principle.
  • It might mean that the group Black Lives Matter is a race-baiting, anti-democratic, racist movement based on lies and intimidation (“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” is still on its website), and should not be accorded special deference on a campus, by professors, or anyone else.  That seems to be what the Dean thinks the phrase means, although he describes the group somewhat differently, and I would say, absurdly deferentially. Nevertheless, taking a shot at BLM is neither a sign of white supremacy nor “harassing, intimidating or threatening” conduct. The members of Black Lives Matter are the experts at harassing, intimidating and threatening.

No plausible meaning of a hand lettered sign that reads “All Lives Matter” justifies the embarrassing law school response, unless that law school has abandoned the Constitutional, intellectual and academic principles all law schools are ethically obligated to defend. That appears to be exactly what the Washington College of Law has done.

This nonsense will stop when a substantial number of students leave a school en masse after it has devalued their degrees like American University’s law school just did.  The students would be heroes, and other university’s administrators would receive a sobering and necessary message.

 

26 thoughts on “The Washington College Of Law’s Embarrassing “All Lives Matter” Freak-Out

  1. and worry about the Nationals starting pitching, perhaps.

    Don’t you feel a sense of great joy in knowing that the Cubs are in first place?

    • You’ll hate me for saying this, but I always root against the Cubs. Failure chic. I resented them being paired with Red Sox as tragic losers, when the Red Sox were always a good team that just fell just short of the brass ring after a hard and courageous fight, while the Cubs just fell off the horse and barely saw the ring.

      • You monster.

        On a slightly more serious note, I’m a Chicago native. My father took me to games as a kid. Then a little later I took him to a few games with some tickets hat were given to students with good grades and perfect attendance. Wrigley Field is a magical place and the Cubbies win or lose will always hold a special place in my heart.

  2. Perhaps these folks are oversensitive over that fact that in 2014, students racked up more than 73,000 worth of debt on the average per year. They have also slipped precipitously in their ranking amongst law schools. Save your money and go someplace else prospective students!

    • Where else can they go? It seems the entire academic establishment has lost its collective mind and is spouting Authentic Frontier Gibberish like the statements above non-stop. The ease with which this non-sense rolls off their word processors is terrifying.

  3. I strongly encourage continued discussion and debate about race and our justice system and about any and all issues of concern to our diverse community.

    Then let us start with this statement by Califiornia Attorney General Kamala Harris.

    “…local law enforcement must be able to use their discretion to determine who can carry a concealed weapon”.

    if the justice system was racist, why would the attorney general of California, who, by virtue of her position as attorney general, is an expert on law enforcement and criminal justice matters, say such a thing?

    I asked this question before. I never got a satisfactory answer.

  4. I would like to take the opportunity, as an academic, to unconditionally denounce and repudiate my fellow academics’ absolute betrayal of scholarly values. It breaks my heart to see what has happened to us. (If we demand non-terrorist Muslims denounce terrorists, it’s only fair I do it too.) My university hasn’t yet been in the news for this kind of thing, but it’s only a matter of time.

  5. It seems to me, lefty liberal that I am, that our current president was (past tense deliberate) in a unique position to bring reason and unity into the racial divide that still plaques this country in many areas. He has not chosen to go down in history as the president who was able to accomplish this. And this kind of stupidity fueled by fear will continue, and perhaps worsen. This will be his tragic legacy.

    • This is correct, Patrice, and tragic, and an object of denial by so many progressives, Democrats and Obama supporters that the fact that you see it so clearly helps me recover faith that I am not losing my mind. This is the most awful possible outcome from Obama’s presidency, and it will be the most damaging and difficult to overcome. Unlike the foreign relations mess and the economic mess, this is an area where Obama had the clear ability, influence and power, absent hindsight, to avoid where we are now, with racial trust and progress in complete freefall.

  6. Bravo to Gail Heriot and Peter Kirsanow of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights for denouncing the school’s Orwellian reaction. The incident reminded me of an old saying; adapting it to the sign “All Lives Matter” that some “subversive guerrilla” decided to post in a prominent place: “Those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.”

  7. Essays could be written on those quotes, especially the one from the WCL faculty… But I feel that it’s all been said. In what hind of torturous logic does “All Lives Matter” become the clarion call of a white supremacist?

    I’ve been caught twice this month alone, to my everlasting shame, believing satire of SJW’s as truth (The one not discussed on here being a piece that was circulated saying that Spotify and Pandora were pulling Heavy Metal from their selections because their sponsors were uncomfortable with violent imagery.). I believed these stories because SJWs are the living embodiment of Poe’s Law, and my general belief that people aren’t completely retarded has been badly damaged by real instances like this. Every time I think they can’t get much stupider, I come across something new.

    For instance… You know about the glass ceiling, right? The invisible barrier keeping women out of boardrooms? Well, ‘ceilings’ are a hot new thing among the socially minded. For instance: The bamboo ceiling keeps Asians out of… I’m not even sure. As a whole Asians are more privileged than white people in America. But they’re being kept out of something. Magnums, maybe. That’s one of the tamer ones though. The “Cotton Ceiling” refers to transsexuals, and the cotton they have to break through is the underwear of men who prefer their women without penises. I can’t make this up. Your sexual preference is transphobic, and you only have to realize it and accept those stunning and brave people into your undergarments to make up for it.

  8. Essays could be written on those quotes, especially the one from the WCL faculty… But I feel that it’s all been said. In what hind of torturous logic does “All Lives Matter” become the clarion call of a white supremacist?

    I’ve been caught twice this month alone, to my everlasting shame, believing satire of SJWs as truth (The one not discussed on here being a piece that was circulated saying that Spotify and Pandora were pulling Heavy Metal from their selections because their sponsors were uncomfortable with violent imagery.). I believed these stories because SJWs are the living embodiment of Poe’s Law, and my general belief that people aren’t completely retarded has been badly damaged by real instances like this. Every time I think they can’t get much stupider, I come across something new.

    For instance… You know about the glass ceiling, right? The invisible barrier keeping women out of boardrooms? Well, ‘ceilings’ are a hot new thing among the socially minded. For instance: The bamboo ceiling keeps Asians out of… I’m not even sure. As a whole Asians are more privileged than white people in America. But they’re being kept out of something. Magnums, maybe. That’s one of the tamer ones though. The “Cotton Ceiling” refers to transsexuals, and the cotton they have to break through is the underwear of men who prefer their women without penises. I can’t make this up. Your sexual preference is transphobic, and you only have to realize it and accept those stunning and brave people into your undergarments to make up for it.

    • On the subject of Poe’s Law: I strongly suspect, though I cannot prove, that at least some of the escalation in political rhetoric – not just SJW, though they’re a prominent example – is due to a trolling feedback loop. Some troll posts something outrageous. People are outraged. But some of those people think “huh, never thought of it that way” – or just feel a need to “defend” someone they think is a “fellow activist” – and that pushes the rhetoric a little more to the extreme. And you end up with trolls and activists egging each other on, getting steadily more outrageous…

      Like I said, can’t prove it, but I suspect this is a partial explanation.

      • Plus, outrage draws eyeballs. Some of these websites are obviously deliberately pushing the edge to get clicks – but that means they have to keep pushing farther and farther.

      • There is a LOT of wagon circling in social justice circles. A flow chart:

        1. Someone says something stupid ->
        Q: Is it stupid because it’s offensive?
        A(yes): Annihilate!
        A(no): Protect their tender snowflake feelings!

  9. Jack, thank you for one of the biggest laughs I have enjoyed while reading your blog – when you wrote: “Freaketh out the WCL faculty:…”

    I don’t know why I laughed so hard; I guess it just hit the right nerve at the right time, the right way. (praiseth Lucky loudly through his mental fog)

  10. Before I’d run off into safespaces landia, I would want to know a bit of the context of this most egregious and offensive handwritten threat. First, the article in the Washington Post declares that “[t]he flier was left anonymously on the door of the office of a faculty member ‘with a national reputation for doing important work on issues of racial justice in the criminal justice system.’” (Ed. note: I must say that I am offended that the flier was handwritten – we aren’t told if it was printed or written in cursive. Doesn’t the perpetrator have the wherewithal to use a computer? Print at the local Kinko’s? Sheesh.)

    The article then informs us that “[s]cores of faculty signed a letter decrying the flier, writing, in part, ‘… the message appears intended by the messenger to be an attempt to silence and intimidate an opposing viewpoint, not an effort to communicate a different perspective.

    ‘… The ‘All Lives Matter’ sign might seem to be a benign message with no ill intent, but it has become a rallying cry for many who espouse ideas of white supremacy and overt racism, as well as those who do not believe the laws should equally protect those who have a different skin color or religion.’” Yet, we are not told who the original target of the handwritten screed was, most likely out of fear for the faculty member’s safety, presumably because the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan are alive and doing well at American University.

    So, I wonder: Could the handwritten flier have been in response to something that the faculty member did or said? Could the anonymous (and most cowardly) perpetrator have posted something on the faculty member’s door to silence the faculty member? Or could it simply have been a response to the faculty member’s comments, in rebuttal saying that racial divisions and animosities will not end unless and until we, as a community, value all lives?

    Then, I would want to know who the ‘scores’ of faculty were who signed the denouncing letter equating “All Lives Matter” with white supremacists. That, in my mind, is more offensive. The faculties’ response is totalitarian and outrageous. Not one of them should have the privilege of teaching at a university – signing such an obviously intolerant and foolish letter should result in immediate forfeiture of any faculty member’s teaching abilities as signature significance – signing the letter shows a complete lack of critical thinking, subjecting them to summary dismissals.

    jvb

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