Students: Smashing Windows Isn’t Going to Help Your Cause

The headline in the New York Times reads “Columbia Says it Will Expel Students Occupying a Campus Building”.  Perhaps you might feel that this is an overreaction.  The students are protesting what they take to be a worthy cause.  They are repulsed by the killing of civilians in Gaza.  They are seeking to do what they think they can do to influence the situation.  They are calling for Columbia to divest their investments from businesses whose products support the war.

A benevolent stance on the issue might state that the students – young people with idealistic aims – might be pardoned their actions.  That is, of course, until you watch the videotape.

Here we see that “occupying” doesn’t just mean sitting in and refusing to leave.  It means breaking widows and causing damage.

In defiance of the rules that kept Blacks in the back of the bus, Rosa Parks sat in the front.  This was an act of civil disobedience.  She knew she would be arrested.  She violated an unjust law and was willing to take the consequences of so doing so that the public would see the injustice of the situation.

Students who are causing damage to Columbia’s buildings: You are not helping your causes.  In fact, you are hurting those causes.  Stop.

Protests that cause harm to people and property are not acts of civil disobedience. They are not acts of defiance.  They do not resist unjust laws.  They violate the property and rights of others in an endeavor to make a moral statement.

When this happens, the violator alienates the very people that they are trying to influence.  Students, if you want Columbia to divest from businesses who support the war in Gaza, you are not presenting a very convincing case.

More important, you are likely hurting the Gazans themselves.  Take a look at the video.  What do you see?  Students wearing keffiyehs breaking windows to gain entry into offices at Columbia University.  What will people see – people with Palestinian head scarfs committing acts of property damage.  Is this what you want people to see?

It is hard not to see the protesters and think of them as if they were actual Palestinians commiting acts of violence.  Yes, we know that they are not.  But it’s not a good image. It’s not an image that makes the viewer sympathetic to the Palestinians or to your cause.  It can arguably even influence elections as people associate left-leaning students with images of violence.

The issue is not whether one supports the cause of the students or not.  The issue is whether one supports property damage and related acts as means for advancing an agenda.

Immoral means do not support any intended moral message. They undercut it.  Please stop.

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