In the wake of Jose Inez Garcia Zarate‘s acquittal for the killing of Kate Steinle, Gregory Lu, a student at University of California San Diego, posted flyers on campus with Steinle’s picutre and the phrase “She had dreams too.” As a result, he was called before the school’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment & Discrimination, amid complaints from campus Democrats.
Zarate claimed that it was an accident when a gun he picked up went off, resulting in Steinle being fatally shot. Still, the fact that he was in the country in the first place drew outrage from many, because he had previously been deported from the United States on five separate occasions, and was wanted for a sixth deportation. Steinle’s death became a rallying point for those in favor of stronger immigration policies and against “sanctuary cities” that protect undocumented immigrants in the custody of local law enforcement officials from federal immigration authorities.
Within that context, UCSD College Democrats called Lu’s posters “racist propaganda … targeting undocumented students and the undocumented community” in a Facebook post. This is likely due to Lu’s “She had dreams too” caption, and the fact that undocumented students benefiting from President Barack Obama‘s DACA program are commonly known as “Dreamers.”
Whether Lu meant his posters to be a politically charged statement or a mere expression of support for the victim in the case, the school’s involvement raises First Amendment concerns. As a public university, summoning a student before a university body due to speech could be problematic. George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley expressed his concern in a recent blog post.
“This is clearly a political statement and protected speech,” Turley said. “Calling in a student to answer for such postings is a chilling and inappropriate action. Instead, the office should ask those complaining to satisfy a minimal burden of proof that such posters constitute hate speech or proscribed conduct.”
Indeed, while undocumented students may have felt slighted by the flyers, that doesn’t mean that was the intention, as there was no overt message directed against any group. It’s one thing for people to disagree with a message, it’s something else entirely for a public university to summon a student for potential disciplinary action just because some other students don’t like what he said.
“The intolerance shown in this matter were those labeling such posters and racist and hate speech,” Turley wrote. “If these reports are accurate, the University should be acting to reinforce the principles of free speech rather than declining comment and calling in Lu to answer for his exercise of free speech.”
According to local ABC10, the university has yet to comment on the matter, and Lu has hired a lawyer.