University of California -Riverside student Edith Macias achieved a degree of fame (or infamy) when she was involved in an ugly incident in September with a fellow student wearing a Make America Great Again hat. Macias ripped the hat off the head of student Matthew Vitale and then spouted profanities in a college office. Now Macias is looking at a charge of misdemeanor grand theft with the possibility of jail time.
Macias tore the hat off Vitale’s head on campus and, in the video below, is shown going into the student services office in a full rage. She screams at the staff that Vitale should not be allowed to wear the hat. The charge was filed after UC Riverside student Matthew Vitale, the student who had his Make America Great Again hat stolen from off his head, decided to press criminal theft charges against Macias.
Macias reportedly told police that she took the hat because it represented “genocide of a bunch of people” and wanted to burn it.
In a now-viral video of the incident, Macias stormed into a student services office with the hat and declared: “UCR is letting people wear this shit on campus? Make American Great Again, really? There were lynchings and genocide and mass deportations . . . I fucking hate this country . . . And I am not leaving . . . We need to get rid of all ya’ll.”
When Vitale reasonably asked for his hat back and defended his right to free speech, Macias declared “Fuck your freedom of speech boy, your freedom of speech is literally killing a lot of people out there, your hats like these that promote laws and legislation that literally kill and murder people of color.”
Macias shows the open hostility toward free speech that we have seen in many college protests, including signs denouncing free speech as a form of white privilege or repression. The utter contempt shown free speech is reflective of the dangerous rollback on campuses as more and more speech is barred as insensitive or declared to be a “microaggression.”
Initially, the charge of “grand theft” seems excessive for a hat. This is a “wobbler” crime that can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. However, the provision below drops the $950 threshold value criteria when property is taken off a person’s body:
CHAPTER 5. Larceny [484 – 502.9]
( Chapter 5 enacted 1872. )
Grand theft is theft committed in any of the following cases:
(a) When the money, labor, or real or personal property taken is of a value exceeding nine hundred fifty dollars ($950), except as provided in subdivision (b).
(b) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), grand theft is committed in any of the following cases:
. . .
(c) When the property is taken from the person of another.
(d) When the property taken is any of the following:
(1) An automobile.
(2) A firearm.
(Amended by Stats. 2013, Ch. 618, Sec. 7. Effective January 1, 2014.)
As a first offense, jail is rare as opposed to informal probation for up to three years. Nevertheless, it is surprising to see a formal charge over a $25 hat. Yet, the video has gone viral and prosecutors may have felt the need to deter such violent and intolerant conduct on campuses.
There of course remains the question of what disciplinary action has been taken by the University of California. The UC system has a rather poor record on criminal acts committed against conservative students or protesters. We followed the controversy surrounding the confrontation of Feminist Studies Associate Professor Mireille Miller-Younga with pro-life advocates on campus. Miller-Young led her students in attacking the pro-life display, stealing their display, and then committing battery on one of the young women. Thrin Short, 16, and her sister Joan, 21, filed complaints and Miller-Young was charged with criminal conduct including Theft From Person; Battery; and Vandalism. Miller-Young was convicted and sentenced in August. Despite the shocking conduct of Miller-Young and the clear violation of the most fundamental values for all academics in guaranteeing free speech and associational rights, the faculty overwhelmingly supported Miller-Young and the university decided not to impose any meaningful discipline.
In this case, a student not only stole the property of another student off his person but denounced his right to exercise free speech. One would have hoped that the school would take immediate and stern action in such a case. Instead, Kim A. Wilcox, University Chancellor, issued an equivocating statement that “coequal to our dedication to mutual respect, is our commitment to free speech and the free exchange of ideas.” Ok, but what about the student who ripped a hat off another students and declared that he has no free speech rights?