First Amendment = Disaster? Syracuse Holds Mock Protest “Disaster Drill”

Is free speech a “disaster”? Syracuse University appears to think so. While many schools hold fire or earthquake drills, Syracuse’s Department of Public Safety saw fit to stage a protest drill. On July 30, police practiced subduing and arresting a large crowd of mock protesters in the center of campus.

The event came as a surprise to many in the Syracuse community. Prior to the exercise, students received a sparse email notifying them that a “mock disaster/training drill” would take place on the quad. However, the email did not specify what type of emergency would be addressed.

“The implications that [the protest drill] has are deeply troubling for students and in urgent need of analysis and debate,” said Erin Kinsey, an organizer of Syracuse’s chapter of Youth and Student ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism).

According to the plan, a rowdy group of phony protesters holding signs assembled on the quad. Some of the actors behaved aggressively by swinging baseball bats and, with the help of the fire department, setting a trash can on fire.

“The scenario portrayed student protesters as unruly instigators of violence,” said Kinsey. Although Syracuse has been the site of a handful of protests in the past year, none of them are believed to have gotten out of hand.

The drill comes in stark contrast to Syracuse University’s official policy of “Scholarship in Action.” Syracuse’s list of tenents include “educat[ing] fully informed and committed citizens,” “provid[ing] access to opportunity,” “strengthen[ing] democratic institutions” and “inform[ing] and engag[ing] public opinion and debate.” It would seem from this policy that Syracuse students not only have the right, but the responsibility to engage in protests rather than having their participation viewed as a criminal threat.

“If Syracuse University truly wants to practice ‘Scholarship in Action’, it should support the rights of students to free speech and encourage political organizing instead of interrupting our learning and working with a heavily policed role-play that equates student protests with a disaster requiring a military response,” said Kinsey.

Indeed, if an academic institution is concerned with an influx of dissent on its campus, that is an indication that it is time to open up dialogue with its students rather than stifle their speech. And while few would argue that the police couldn’t use some practice in learning how to more appropriately handle protest scenarios, that does not mean rehearsing tactics to shut down and arrest protesters more efficiently.

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Photo Credit: John Marino


Michael G.
Michael T5 years ago

Rob I seem to recall Thomas Jefferson making a remark about how a little revolution every now and then is a good thing. If the government is wrong, and they are supposed to be representing the people (instead of themselves and special interests) and the people are saying stop, thus you shall go no farther sounds to me like the government should be listening. I know that would mess your day up, but I guess that's just tough.

Duane B.
.5 years ago

What happened to the good old days of the 1960's when you could protest in relative peace?!!

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown5 years ago

Rob said "Ther e is NO PLACE for disruptive protests in our country!"

Oh you mean like the protests our founding fathers had against Great Britain that started this nation? Those kind of protests have NO PLACE in our country, is that what you are saying?

Rob Dean
Rob Dean5 years ago

Pretty important that protesters follow the law and remain civil, law abiding and non-violent as well as respecting other people and their property. Protesters are not permitted to trespass or disturb the peace of others. They can make themselves seen in public places in a peaceful manner - but if they violate the laws they need to be accountable for their criminal acts. As they taught me in the Boy Scouts - Be Prepared! That means the police everywhere need to be fully trained to protect lawful protesters' rights, but to arrest and remove unlawful protesters to protect the rest of us. Protesters cannot interfere with the rest of us who are going about our lives in a lawful manner - if they interfere they are breaking the law and need to be put in jail and pay the fines. Civil disobedience cannot ever be violent and be lawful. Respect is what we ask for and if we don't get it then we want the protesters removed and charged accordingly! Glad to see this training in place. There is NO PLACE for disruptive protests in our country!

Berny p.
Berny p5 years ago

Better be safe then sorry!

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

Thanks for sharing

JT Smith5 years ago

This does rather help to explain the ongoing human and civil rights violations which are continually perpetrated by American police across the nation.

JT Smith5 years ago

This does rather help to explain the ongoing human and civil rights violations which are continually perpetrated by American police across the nation.

Elaine McAuliffe
Elaine McAuliffe5 years ago

What's important is knowing what is going on, then we can be prepared to stop it. Any government which is not watched by it's citizens is likely to get out of hand. Look at the House of Representatives and the Senate, some of those people have been in office so long, they behave as if they are annointed, not elected and can do whatever they want, even the fairly newly elected tea baggers. When the government first established internment camps for citizens of Japanese ancestry, it should have been stopped. Time to let all politicians we do not want camps here or they should not go on building them.

Luvenia V.
Luvenia V5 years ago

Wesley S., since the government FINALLY admitted the camps exist you can find some of them online on maps. Most are very close to railways and airports. They were started a long time ago so I am not sure who started them.

LOOK they told us they did not exist then had to admit they lied. They said Chemtrails were a lie but now we KNOW they were and ARE real. They LIE and YOU should do the research and know what you are really up against. Believe me our greatest fear should NOT be anyone from overseas.