Anti-drone protests strike Landon Lecture

The Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice line the lawn outside McCain on Sept. 6, 2016. The group was protesting the use of drones as military weapons, which was the topic at the Landon Lecture that evening. (Anna Spexarth | The Collegian)

Behind the yellow police tape lining sections of the lawn outside McCain Auditorium, protesters took a stand.

A group of police officers approached two more protesters who were handing out leaflets at the entrance to McCain.

These two protesters were asked to move away from the entrance. After adding 10 more feet between them and the door, the protestors continued distributing their leaflets along the sidewalk, and the police let them be.

“We had a little bit of friction at the entrance,” John Exdell, co-founder of the Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice and emeritus faculty in philosophy, said.

He said the police told him the leaflets could only be handed out in the taped off zones. But Exdell said he politely told them no.

“We compromised and moved a little further away from the building,” Exdell said. “They were happy; we were happy.”

Tuesday’s Landon Lecture speaker was Wes Bush, CEO of Northrop Grumman, an aerospace and defense technology company. It manufactures the X-47B, an unmanned combat air vehicle. MAPJ protested the use of drones as military weapons.

The Westboro Baptist Church also protested outside McCain.

Drone Casualties

Disseminating information on the use of drones as military weapons was the purpose of the protest, Will Chernoff, a MAPJ board member and graduate student in sociology, said.

“What we’re trying to do is bring a little balance of information to what’s going on tonight, because right now it’s all coming from one specific side,” Chernoff said. “We just want to make sure that the information that is also a part of this discussion isn’t neglected from their side of things.”

According to the MAPJ leaflet, 90 percent of people killed in U.S. drone strikes are unintended targets.

“The causalities of (using drones as military weapons) are unacceptable,” Chernoff said. “The number of innocent people allowed to be killed because of this effort is too many.”

Those civilian casualties can cause more people to take up arms against the U.S., Exdell said.

“We’re really focused here on the use of drones as military weapons that kill a lot of innocent people and create a lot of enemies for the country,” Exdell said. “(The civilian casualties from drone strikes) creates a hatred of the United States and fuels a whole culture of animosity.”

According to the MAPJ leaflet, citing the New York Times, the CIA counts all military-aged males in a strike zone as militants, which causes underestimates of civilian casualties.

Free Speech

The yellow police tape did not designate a specific “free speech zone.” Rather, it designates a reserved area for protesters, giving them a safe location to protest, Tom Harley, an officer with the K-State Police Department, said.

The protesters are not forced to remain within the yellow tape, Harley said. The Westboro Baptist Church actually requested the designated area.

In fact, Harley said he was unaware of any free speech zones on campus.

“All of campus is a free speech zone,” Ellen Welti, one of the protesters and graduate student in biology, said. “You can actually have a protest without getting a permit.”

But to protest off-campus in Manhattan, the group would need a permit, Welti said.

In the incident at the McCain entrance, the protesters were moved from the entrance to prevent a funnel from forming, Harley said.

“It gives people a chance, if they don’t want to stand there and listen to it, they don’t have to be bombarded by anything they don’t want to hear,” Harley said.

Harley said the police want to both protect the attendees of the lecture as well as the freedom of speech of the protesters.

“We want to protect everyone’s freedom of speech, but then (have) for people, who don’t want to listen and participate in that, the option to walk away safely without any conflict,” Harley said.

Chernoff said it is important to be allowed to express personal beliefs at a public university.

“It’s not just something we believe is our rights, it’s our constitutional right,” Chernoff said.

And the protesters did not think their rights were infringed.

“I want to be clear, we’re not in significant opposition to (the police),” Barbara Krehbiel Gehring, a MAPJ board member and professor of social work, said. “They’ve been very respectful to us, and they have no problem with us handing out the information or the fliers.”

The protesters said their interactions with the police were respectful.

“They were just concerned about us being too aggressive, and we told them we were going to be polite and friendly,” Chernoff said. “We’re not going to badger anyone.”

Those who handed out leaflets stood along the sidewalks and conversed with passersby, but did not yell.

“K-State does have rules about not harassing people,” Krehbiel Gehring said. “And that’s not just about protests, that’s just in general.”

The protesters said they did not have any intentions of harassing people or preventing them from entering the lecture.

“We’re not trying to block access to the lecture — that’s not our intended purpose,” Krehbiel Gehring said.

“We’re not against having the lecture, we just want another voice,” Welti added.

“We just want to disseminate the information about drones,” Krehbiel Gehring continued. “That’s our primary goal, is to put out this information — to be another voice.”

Jason Tidd graduated from Kansas State University's Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communication in May 2017. He was the spring 2017 editor-in-chief, fall 2016 news editor and spring 2016 assistant news editor. While at K-State, Jason played baritone in the Pride of Wildcat Land marching band.