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California feminist studies professor sentenced for attack on anti-abortion protesters
August 16, 2014 - Andrea Johnson
Mireille Miller-Young likely rues the day that she stole an anti-abortion protester's sign and pushed and scratched the 16-year-old girl who tried to snatch it back.
Yesterday, according to a press release issued by the Life Legal Defense Foundation, Miller-Young, an associate professor of feminist studies at the University of California-Santa Barbara, was sentenced to three years of probation, 108 hours of community service, 10 hours of anger management, $500 in restitution and a small fine. Last month she pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of grand theft, vandalism and battery.
During the incident on March 4, Miller-Young and some students snatched a poster from a group of anti-abortion protesters on the campus. When one of the protesters, 16-year-old Thrin Short, followed the group and tried to snatch back her sign, Miller-Young scratched her arms. Miller-Young and the students took the sign back to her office and cut it to pieces with a pair of scissors. The protesters were set up in a so-called "free speech zone" on the college campus. Miller-Young, who was pregnant, claimed the sign "triggered" her because it displayed graphic and bloody images of aborted fetuses.
The protest group took video of the assault and uploaded it to YouTube. The video shows that Miller-Young displayed a rather alarming disregard for freedom of speech, as well as an interesting definition of "terrorism." At one point in the video, one of the girls calls Miller-Young a thief. Miller-Young, smiling, replies "I may be a thief, but you're a terrorist."
Most of us would give that word its dictionary definition: "the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims," as in ripping a poster out of a protester's hands, physically pushing and scratching a kid who is trying to take her property back, and then physically destroying the property one has stolen. Miller-Young apparently considered it terrorism when a group of peaceful protesters put on display posters depicting aborted fetuses and tried to share a viewpoint with which Miller-Young disagreed. No matter how offensive the imagery on display and no matter how offensive the speech of the protesters, it isn't terrorism unless it is accompanied by physical violence.
Miller-Young's supporters also share her rather unusual world view. Eileen Boris, one of Miller-Young's colleagues in the feminist studies department at the University of California-Santa Barbara, suggested that Miller-Young reacted as she did because she was pregnant and affected by the legacy of slavery.
"She was at the stage of a pregnancy when one is not fully one's self fully, so the image of a severed fetus appeared threatening," Boris wrote in a letter of support for Miller-Young that was addressed to the sentencing judge. "If she appears smiling on camera, she is 'wearing the mask,' that is, she is hiding her actual state through a strategy of self-presentation that is a cultural legacy of slavery." Luckily the judge did not agree that being pregnant and black is a good defense for committing theft, battery and vandalism.
Another of Miller-Young's supporters, University of California-Santa Barbara history professor Paul Spikard, claimed in a letter to the court that it would be a tragedy if Miller-Young was sentenced to anger management. He feels Miller-Young has been the victim of an "energetic smear campaign" by right wing media. I suppose Spikard might well count me among the ranks of people who have been unfair to Miller-Young, though I wouldn't exactly call myself "right wing."
After I first read of this story last March, I learned more about Miller-Young and have been reading her Twitter feed. In many ways, she sounds like a woman I would probably like and might agree with on many issues. On others, I would likely disagree with her. However, I am extremely concerned about what her actions and those of her colleagues might indicate about what goes on these days in certain academic circles. Even more alarming is what might happen if this disdain for unpopular positions and for freedom of speech happens to spread to wider society.
Miller-Young took a step in the right direction when she apologized to the court for some of her actions and acknowledged that "the Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust group had a perfect right to come to UC Santa Barbara to express their views about women's reproductive rights. As much as the images they displayed were offensive and distressing to my students, and to me, I had no right to take their poster or destroy it." She did not apologize, however, for pushing and scratching 16-year-old Thrin Short. Hopefully, that was an inadvertent omission. The University of California at Santa Barbara has not made public any disciplinary action it might have taken against Miller-Young either.
Thrin Short and her older sister, Joan, don't appear to be entirely satisfied with Miller-Young's apology.
"While Miller-Young submitted a written apology to the court for taking and destroying the sign, the sincerity of that apology is undercut by other letters she submitted from colleagues, several of which attempt to shift the blame onto the pro-lifers," said Joan Short in a statement issued on Saturday. "Regardless of the actual level of her remorse, her conviction on three misdemeanor charges will undoubtedly be sufficient to dissuade her from any repetition of her outrageous conduct. The prosecution itself should have disabused her of the notion that she could victimize pro-lifers with impunity, an attitude clearly on display in the video [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLemX9QtUa4]," she added, referring to footage taken by the Short sisters during the assault. "We hope that anyone else who might consider violence or vandalism against pro-life advocates will take note."
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