Katie Jensen

Equinox Staff

Earlier this year, Keene State College’s free speech policy challenged conservative USA Turning Point activists when they were told to “pack up and head on out,” by campus safety officers for expressing their right to free speech outside the designated “free speech area.”

Last year, the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) changed Keene State College’s free speech policy from a “red light” to a “green light,” but expressed reservations on the fact that there was a “free speech area” on campus.

These areas are set up so activists may express themselves at the right time, place, and manner to prevent any hazardous situations from occurring, such as blocking roadways or fire exits. However, a video of the occurrence featured on Breitbart News shows that the activists had set up a table on Appian Way where hardly any students are seen walking by and no roadblocks can occur.

The campus safety officer also informed the activists that they need to get permission from the school before setting up a table in the “free speech area.” The article by FIRE goes on to state, “There is nothing ‘reasonable’ about most free speech zones,” that requires students to request permission in advance to use the free speech area for a limited amount of time on a “little patch of green.”

It seems the college is conforming to a new interpretation of free speech that requires individuals to get permission from their superiors, either their employer or the organizations they are associated with, before they speak out. This means that people are seen as part of a collective before they are seen as individuals.

The new set of regulations encroaching on college campuses and other national organizations — such as the NBA — suggest that people should think about the consequences of speaking out, because they could face penalties from the groups and organizations they are a part of.

What these organizations and institutions do not understand is that expressing controversial opinions is messy and will most likely incite negative emotions among other people. It is up to those people to react in an appropriate manner, whether they feel personally offended or not. Otherwise, those who try to suppress controversial opinions from being heard will face double the amount of public scrutiny.

Recently, the National Basketball Association (NBA) has faced public scrutiny for censoring its employees and purportedly siding with communist country of China as it tries to squelch the protests occurring in Hong Kong. In doing so, the NBA has proven they are more concerned with making money than honoring their employees right to free speech and sympathizing with the people of Hong Kong.

In October, Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” and received fierce backlash from the NBA and its star players, including LeBron James who stated Morey was “misinformed” and ‘’uneducated” while he was at a press conference on October 14.

However, Lebron James refused to comment on the political situation between Hong Kong and China, proving that he is either being censored by the NBA or is even more uneducated on the topic. Therefore, I will give a brief overview of the political crisis occurring in Hong Kong, so readers will not be accused of sharing their “uneducated” opinions.

First, one must understand there has been a longstanding conflict between China and its semi-autonomous province Hong Kong for decades now. Hong Kong was formerly a British Colony until 1997 when it was politically reunited with China under a policy known as “one country; two systems.” Essentially, this policy allows Hong Kong to govern autonomously with its own constitution, laws, police force and political system that was set to remain in place until 2047.

Over time, the economic and political semi-autonomy of Hong Kong has become embedded within its culture. Data from the Council on Foreign Relations shows that an increasing number of residents refer to themselves as ‘Hong Kongers,’ while the number of those who identify themselves as “Chinese in Hong Kong” have dropped. This change in ethnic identity conveys the population’s preference toward seeking independence.

Furthermore, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, Basic Law, reflects the ideals of a limited democracy, whereas Mainland China is communist and ruled by a single party. Hong Kong embraces capitalism and free elections within its constitution, whereas China embraces socialism and limited speech. The 2019 Index of Economic Freedom indicates Hong Kong has the world’s freest economy with a freedom score of 90.2. To put that into perspective, the United States is ranked 12th with a score of 76.8 and China is ranked 100th with a score of 58.6.

Since the handover of 1997, the people of Hong Kong have been resentful of China’s meddling in their political system. The People’s Republic of China United Front Strategy is a legitimate coordinated effort directed by the Chinese communist government to attain greater control over Hong Kong and has been around since the 1980s, according to the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Their research details the PRC’s three-point strategy that includes increasing self-censorship in Hong Kong’s media, instituting a moral and national education system that praises communism and nationalist ideology and imposing Mandarin as Hong Kong’s mother language, even though a majority of Hong Kongers speak Cantenese.

The current protests happening in Hong Kong pertain to a controversial bill that would have allowed people accused of crimes to be extradited to mainland China, where courts are controlled by the communist party. The New York Times reported that critics fear “the bill would allow Beijing to target dissidents in Hong Kong with phony charges, exposing activists to China’s opaque legal system.” The organizers of the protest stated that more than one million people participated in the peaceful march.

Their longstanding conflict came to a head on June 12 when police officers used pepper spray, batons and 150 canisters of tear gas to disperse thousands of protestors, including elderly people and children, as they peacefully marched through the streets. This Tiananmen-style crack-down outraged protestors who demanded there be an investigation of the police force, but their government leaders have refused. The New York Times reported, “The mass demonstration was one of the largest in the city’s history and a stunning display of rising fear and anger over the erosion of the civil liberties that have long set this former British colony apart from the rest of the country.”

However, the violence shown by authorities has only spurred more violence on both sides, proving that the use of force does nothing to quell the self-determination of the people. Instead, the police force and protestors have unleashed total chaos. Since June 12, the New York Times and other media sources reported that police have been using water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and brutal arrests to suppress the protestors. In one case, a police officer fired a live round into the chest of a protestor. In response, a minority of protestors have acted violently by throwing bricks and Molotov cocktails at police officers. In October, the NYT reported that a homemade bomb detonated as a police vehicle passed in Mong Kok district of Kowloon. No one was hurt, but no one has taken responsibility for the bomb.

The situation has become much more controversial now that protestors are fighting back; however, that is not the reason the NBA has censored its employees from talking about it. It is purely a money issue.

Although Daryl Morey’s tweet was deleted, Bloomberg reported that the NBA lost almost all of its Chinese sponsors, which is the league’s biggest market outside of the U.S. In addition, two of the Nets vs. Laker games were not aired in China on television or on the internet. Therefore, for the sake of the NBA’s partnership with China, they demanded employees keep a tight lip on the events occurring in Hong Kong.

Nevertheless, it is wrong for the NBA to prohibit its employees from expressing their opinions. After all, they are still individuals who have the freedom to express their opinions outside of work, without it affecting their professional lives.

Furthermore, Daryl Morey’s statement “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong” should not be considered controversial, especially since the United States acknowledges the right of self-determination within the Charter of the United Nations. Article 1 of the UN Charter states, “All peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” The people of Hong Kong are exercising their right to fight for independence, the same way many other countries have exercised that right, including the United States during the American Revolution.

According to the Washington Post, NBA fans in Hong Kong are now burning LeBron James jerseys. One protestor reportedly addressed the crowd by stating, “Please remember, all NBA players, what you said before: ‘Black lives matter.’ Hong Kong lives also matter!”

Katie Jensen can be contacted at kjensen@kscequinox.com

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