Speaker Booed Off Stage by nuhman10

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									New York Times - December 21, 2001

       CIVIL LIBERTIES

       In Sacramento, a Publisher's Questions
       Draw the Wrath of the Crowd

       By TIMOTHY EGAN

         SACRAMENTO, Dec. 19 —
          Christmas break usually leaves the
       campus of California State University here
       to roaming roosters and janitors. But the
       school's administrators have been busy all
       week, fielding questions over an incident last
       week in which a commencement speaker
       was booed off the stage for calling for the
       protection of civil liberties in the
       government's response to terrorism.

       "I have been a university president for 26 years, and I've never seen anything
       like what happened last Saturday," said Donald R. Gerth, president of the
       university.

       Dr. Gerth was on the stage in front of a crowd of at least 10,000 graduates
       and guests on Saturday night when the speaker, Janis Besler Heaphy, the
       president and publisher of The Sacramento Bee, raised a number of
       questions about the government response to terrorism.

       When Ms. Heaphy urged that citizens safeguard their rights to free speech,
       against unlawful detainment and for a fair trial she was loudly booed. When
       she wondered what would happen if racial profiling became routine, the
       audience cheered. The speech was halted as Dr. Gerth urged the crowd to
       be civil.

       Ms. Heaphy tried to finish. But just as she argued that "the Constitution
       makes it our right to challenge government policies," a clapping chant and
       further heckling forced her off the stage.

       Memory has etched different moments into different people's minds. "It was
       when she started defending habeas corpus that things went downhill," said
       Robert Jones, a university vice president.

       But some students, while saying that the rowdiness was limited to a very
       vocal bleacher crowd, criticized Ms. Heaphy for bringing up too many
       philosophical questions arising from the terrorist attacks on a day that they
       said should have been light and celebratory.

       "She started out O.K., promising to be brief," said Britt Randall, who
       graduated from California State last May and was attending as a guest. "But
       then she goes right into Sept. 11, and she goes on, and on, and on."

       The university did not keep a video or audio record of the speech, officials
       said. But a home video of the commencement address taken by a member of
       the audience shows that the heckling started about five minutes into a
       nine-minute speech, and grew as Ms. Heaphy raised questions about civil
liberties violations.

The actions that Ms. Heaphy cited as questionable — from expanded
wiretapping to harnessing the press, to unlawful detainment — were
applauded by many in the audience.

"It was scary," said Bob Buckley, a computer sciences professor and
president of the faculty senate. "For the first time in my life, I can see how
something like the Japanese internment camps could happen in our country."

All week, the speech has been the talk of Sacramento, and among civil
liberties advocates and their conservative critics.

"We've always known that if you took the Bill of Rights to the street and
asked most people to sign it, you would be unable to get a majority of
Americans to do so," said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the
American Civil Liberties Union chapter in Los Angeles.

Conservative talk radio stations in California have criticized the speaker, a
longtime newspaper executive, for the political content of the speech. Ms.
Heaphy refused repeated requests for an interview.

In letters to the editor carried by The Bee this week, most writers were
critical of Ms. Heaphy.

"Although I think it was a shame that she was unable to finish the speech, I
feel that she brought the reaction of the crowd on herself," wrote Jason
Collins, identified as a student who witnessed the speech. "The consensus
was that this forum was neither the time nor the place to be making such
strong political statements as she did."

Mr. Gerth, the university president, said that nothing in the speech diverged
from a basic American civics lesson. "It is not only thoughtful, but extremely
responsible," he said of the speech.

Ms. Heaphy did not question the war effort or the buildup of domestic
security. She praised the call to patriotism. But she repeatedly questioned
whether American values were being lost in the response by law
enforcement.

"No one argues the validity and need for both retaliation and security," she
said in the speech. "But to what lengths are we willing to go to achieve them?
Specifically, to what degree are we willing to compromise our civil liberties in
the name of security?"

University officials say the graduates themselves — about 1,100 students, or
barely a tenth of the audience — were polite and did not take part in the
heckling. The videotape is unclear on that point. But it does show sporadic
hooting, heckling and foot-stomping from the stands.

Cal State Sacramento, which is far less known than other big institutions in
the state system, has more than 27,000 students. It serves as a commuter
school for the Sacramento area, as well as a place for international students
to study.

Administrators say there have been no conflicts over the authorities'
questioning of some students from Middle Eastern countries, and few
protests — one way or the other — about the war.

"We had a teddy-bear drive to get at least one bear for each of the victims'
families from Sept. 11," said Artemio Pimentel, the student body president.

Mr. Pimentel, who presents himself with a business card and occupies an
office with slogans from past campus elections — "safer campus, no new
fees" — said he was horrified by the jeering and heckling.

"I've spoken to a lot of students since this happened," he said, "and they all
say this is something they've never seen in their entire lives. People were
sickened by this. But to be fair, a lot of people are just tired of hearing about
9/11."

A text of Ms. Heaphy's speech shows she intended to end on an upbeat
note: "America was founded on the belief that the freedom to think as you
will and speak as you think are essential to democracy. Only by exercising
those rights can you ensure their continued existence." But she quit about
500 words before that closing.

Mr. Buckley, the faculty president, said the incident was not unique to this
campus.

"I think she could have given the speech at any university in America and the
reaction would have been the same," he said. "People in this country are hurt,
angry and vengeful. There's a lot of emotion out there."

								
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