Logli wont pursue Rockford College incident
By Jeff Havens, Staff Writer
Winnebago County States Attorney Paul Logli said his office will not investigate to find those responsible for turning off the sound system twice during Rockford Colleges controversial May 17 commencement address given by New York Times reporter and author Chris Hedges.
In the absence of the college pushing it [identifying and seeking to charge the alleged perpetrator(s)], we wont pursue it, Logli said.
Brian Blanchard, district attorney for Dane County, whose office is in Madison, Wis., had a different opinion of the situation. Blanchard, who was familiar with the incident, said if it had occurred in Madisonhome of the University of Wisconsin and several other small private and public collegeshis office would certainly consider the universitys actions and opinions, however, The universitys decision to pursue or not pursue would not dictate our decision to review it [the incident].
Hedges gave an abbreviated version of his anti-war speech during Rockford Colleges commencement activities. Hedges spoke out against the war in Iraq and was critical of several U.S. policies. He was heckled by some, others turned their backs, and a few reportedly left during the address.
Susan Stephens, news director for local public radio affiliate WNIJ (89.5 FM) in DeKalb, reported May 19 the sound system was cut twice as Hedges spoke. The story subsequently gained international attention and was the source of much local controversy.
Logli said his office would be hard pressed to get involved unless the college decided to pursue the incident. However, if the incident was pushed by college officials, Logli said he would probably seek a disorderly conduct charge.
Bob Brown, vice president of advancement at Rockford College, addressed the question of prosecuting whoever unplugged Hedges microphone to disrupt the speech. We talked about that, and in light of the fact that we really dont know who did it, we would not be interested in pursuing that question, Brown said. He would not speculate what the colleges action would be if the person or persons who did unplug the microphone were identified.
Blanchard said the incident was very fact specific, and he would need answers to many questions before determining a charge. For example, was the sound system cut or unplugged? If the system was cut, Blanchard said a criminal damage to property charge may be appropriate. Blanchard would also want to know if the alleged perpetrator(s) was violent, abusive, profane or trying to provoke a disturbance. Blanchard concluded by saying, We would review it.
Critics of those who protested Hedges speech, including the Wall Street Journal, argued Hedges should have been allowed to deliver his speech uninterrupted.
The Wall Street Journals May 23 editorial said although Hedges speech was foolish and inappropriate for a commencement address, it doesnt mean he deserves to be silenced. The Wall Street Journal also suggested the protesters in the audience were patriots who may be better off for discovering what the liberal elites, represented by Mr. Hedges, really think.
Illinois states attorneys in DeKalb, McLean and McDonough counties were not available for comment; these counties are home to Northern Illinois University, Illinois State University and Western Illinois University, respectively.
The Rock River Times estimates from Rockford Colleges graduation program that of the 477 students who were awarded degrees, 226 were from the immediate Rockford area (about 47.4 percent). Stephens estimated about 400 graduates were in attendance and the total crowd was about 1,000.