On September 1, 2017, a student journalist was assaulted while reporting on a demonstration at the University of Texas, Austin (UT-Austin).
The demonstration was organized by a student group known as Sanctuary UT to protest Texas Senate Bill 4, which would require police to work with US federal immigration authorities and allow police to ask detained individuals to provide information regarding their immigration status. This legislation, which had been scheduled to go into effect on September 1 before it was blocked by a federal court, was reported as an effective ban on “sanctuary cities” across the state.
On the morning of September 1, approximately 25 students convened on campus to listen to speakers from Sanctuary UT before a planned march to the Texas Capitol building. While the demonstration was widely reported as calm, Chase Karacostas, a UT-Austin student and journalist at the Daily Texan, was struck on the head by a student protester while interviewing another student. Police on the scene quickly took into custody a suspect, who was released 12 hours later and charged with “assault” and “bodily injury.” Mr. Karacostas suffered minor injuries and was treated at an urgent care facility.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence during a student protest. Students have the right to freedom of expression and freedom of association on campus, but those rights must be exercised in a manner consistent with university values, including non-violence and social responsibility. Violent acts by students engaged in organized expression not only pose a direct threat to the immediate victims, but also undermine academic freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of association, and harm democratic society generally.