Politics & Policy

Students Get Death Threats Over ‘Build the Wall’ Display

Construction crews work on a section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall in El Paso, Texas, September 26, 2018. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)
A common political message earns its makers online vituperation — and worse

A  group of students at SUNY Oswego put up a “Build the Wall” display on campus on Tuesday — only to be hit with violent messages, including death threats, on social media.

The threats against the members of the group, Young Americans for Freedom, included mentions of shooting them, jumping them, and “greasing” them, according to an article in The College Fix. Reportedly, things got so bad that the university took several steps in response to them, including launching a police investigation and reminding students about a little thing called “free speech.”

YAF chairman Tyler Toomey told The Fix that the group is working with police on the issue.

“Threats of violence against students should not be tolerated regardless of their political view,” he said. “We are disgusted that our peers are threatening violence against members of our organization.”

“We had several great discussions with passing-by students and we were only treated to dirty looks in terms of negativity at the table,” Toomey continued. “After the event, social media blew up into a storm of bullying harassment and then turned to violent threats of shooting, jumping, and ‘greasing’ our members.”

Toomey also said that people had even “targeted our direct messages with their threats of violence.”

The Fix obtained screenshots of some of the posts and messages, which included “fellas if y’all locked in a room with these 3 ugly mf’s and only got 27 bullets which one y’all shootin’ first” and “Count Your Days Buddy!”

The college’s president, Deborah Stanley, addressed the issue in a statement to the school.

“Violent threats will not be tolerated and are not protected by freedom of speech,” she said. “We will pursue offenders as soon as we become aware of threats of violence or other criminal acts.”

“The principles of free speech and expression are fundamental to an open society,” she continued. “. . . While some ideas and opinions are vastly different from our own and may be anathema to what we think and believe, I strongly encourage all students, faculty and staff who wish to rebut expressions of others to use their words and voices to add their experiences and understandings to the public ‘marketplace of ideas’ that is the soul of SUNY Oswego. An ill-tempered and threatening response may very well bolster those ideas you wish to debunk and make you subject to judicial proceedings.”

Stanley is absolutely correct. Not only is making threats wrong and illegal, but it is also a completely stupid way to try and compel other people to see your point of view. No one is going to be threatened by someone and then think to himself, “Gee, I really respect this person and would love to consider what they have to say.” No, all it’s going to do is further drive a wedge between the two opposing sides and make any kind of real conversation impossible.

Unfortunately, it seems as though our political climate has become a complete and total disaster. Far too many people don’t see those on the “other side” simply as people with whom they happen to disagree, they see them as enemies to be destroyed. In other words: They don’t even really see them as people at all. All too often, discourse between sides has become hostile, which is terrible — not only because it’s hurtful and wrong, but also because it just isn’t productive. We’ve become a very divided country, and if we ever hope to patch things up, we need to start engaging with opposing points of view with respect instead of hatred.

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