MILWAUKEE, Sunday Afternoon: I came to the student-organized sit-in protesting Trump’s appearance at UWM late today. Though most of the action was over, the footprint of the immense force mustered to defend Donald Trump against potential protesters lingered.
As I approached campus, I saw pairs of police on motorcycles driving up and down Kenwood Avenue. Metal barriers staffed by uniformed Milwaukee police officers partitioned the campus into “go” and “no go” zones; I was advised by two of them to “go around” instead of taking a short cut across campus.
Taking the long way around, I saw four mounted police entering one of the no-go zones as other police drew back a metal gate for them. In a high-tech era, the presence of cops on horseback conveys more than physical danger. Seated high above a crowd on the backs of huge, domesticated animals, mounted police conjure an intimidating history of bloody charges into crowds of peaceful protesters.
The forces deemed necessary to secure Fox News’ “Town Hall” with Donald Trump entailed dozens of police and police vehicles: cars, motorcycles, horses and, ominously, a paddy-wagon parked just off of Kenwood Avenue. Pedestrian and automobile traffic was redirected.
At a crucial time in the semester, these arrangements impeded student access to libraries, studios and labs. Students and faculty of color had a well-founded fear of being verbally or physically harassed, as has become commonplace at Trump events. Shouldn’t a public university be a place where people can walk and learn without fear?
Undaunted, hundreds of students, faculty and other denizens showed up to peacefully protest Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric and its explicit threats to Muslims, people of color and anyone protesting against it. These protesters understood what is at stake when a public campus hosts a purveyor of race-hate.
Undoubtedly, Trump’s appearance at UWM will be justified by invocations of the importance of non-partisanship and free speech, and by the unstated importance of the revenues generated by use of campus facilities. But the heavy police presence on campus contradicts arguments about balance and public discourse. Hate speech is not the same thing as free speech. In Wisconsin, free speech is itself under assault from attacks on public education, on tenure and democratic governance. And the fact that UWM desperately needs the revenue paid by Fox News for the venue speaks volumes about the position of education in our state.
The detritus of the event today at UWM tells another tale than that of free speech and parity. In context of the brutal assault on public education in Wisconsin, this story is one of money spent on protecting dangerous rich men instead of investing in educating the people who can rightly lay claim to UWM as their public campus.