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Columbia University Group Defends Minuteman Speech Protest


The protesters who disrupted a Columbia University speech by the leader of the civilian immigration monitoring group the Minuteman Project stood by their action Monday, handing out an eight-page list of statements supporting their position.

Student Karina Garcia, spokeswoman for the Chicano Caucus, denied that her group had interfered with anyone’s right of free speech and said news reports of Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist being attacked by protesters were untrue.

“The truth is that when the protesters unfurled a banner saying ‘No Human Being is Illegal,’ they were attacked by Minutemen who jumped on stage, then some other students unfurled another banner,” Garcia said in a telephone interview.

Gilchrist was not attacked but “took off his glasses and was laughing,” she added.

According to Garcia, student Martin Lopez, was “kicked in the face” by a Minuteman and was bleeding. He did not go to a hospital or file a police report at the time, but may have filed a report since, she said. She also said the group was “talking to our lawyers.”

Minuteman spokesman Tim Bueler said Monday that only three representatives of the group were present at the Oct. 4 event, and that none of them had physically attacked anyone.

Bueler said the organization’s director of community relations, Marvin Stewart, was “repeatedly subjected to racial slurs, including the N-word” and Gilchrist’s glasses were “ripped off” while uniformed campus officers “stood by and did nothing.”

Of the racial slurs by protesters, Bueler said, “I haven’t seen that in the mainstream media. Columbia has the reputation of a fine university. Why would they say that to Mr. Stewart?”

At a campus news conference Monday, the Chicano Caucus handed out a list of statements supporting its position from other groups, including the university’s Black Students Organization and the International Socialist Organization and several academics.

Gilchrist was speaking on stage Oct. 4 when members of the caucus emerged with banners denouncing his organization, which advocates action to prevent illegal immigration from Mexico. The protesters accused the group of being “racist” and “fascist” in its views toward illegal immigrants.

While the interruption led to some pushing and shoving and forced Gilchrist to cut short his talk, a videotape of the incident appearing on shows no real violence. Nonetheless, members of the caucus claimed they had been “violently attacked” by Minuteman “goons.” Columbia President Lee Bollinger has ordered an investigation.

In response to queries on Monday about the investigation, a university spokeswoman said there was nothing new and referred reporters to a three-day-old statement by Bollinger deploring the incident as “one of the most serious breaches of faith that can occur in a university such as ours.”

Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg reiterated his view Monday that nobody has a right to physically interfere with people expressing their views, no matter the subject.

“The bottom line is either you believe in the First Amendment or you don’t,” Bloomberg said at City Hall. “And when somebody’s saying something that is not to your liking, you don’t have a right to rush up on stage and assault them or, I would argue, even disrupt their behavior.”

Bloomberg added in response to a question about last week’s incident: “The nice thing about the First Amendment is it applies to everybody.”

— Associated Press


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