Several Santa Clarita residents voiced their opposition to the announcement of political activist Angela Davis being named as a guest speaker at College of the Canyons on Saturday — one of them being a campus safety officer.
Matt Funicello spoke at COC’s board of trustees meeting Wednesday and laid out his arguments for why he’s opposed to Davis’ appearance at the school and believed his career at the college wouldn’t last long following his statement.
“Tonight, I’m committing what people call, ‘career suicide,’ for what I’m about to say will only increase the size of the already large figurative target on my back,” said Funicello.
Funicello said he was sent an email from a superior that stated all officers would be required to work and provide security for the event — an order Funicello vehemently opposed. He called Davis a “Black supremacist” and contended that COC hates the fact people like him — a combat veteran, former police officer and outspoken conservative — exist.
“COC says it fights racism by inviting a Black supremacist, a former Black Panther, former but proud communist in Angela Davis to speak here,” said Funicello. “A person that in her adult life has in one way or another, supported or condoned the killing or targeting of police officers and white people.”
While Davis is stirring up controversy today in the SCV, she’s no stranger to it.
Davis rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s as a political activist and lecturer — primarily at universities in California. She advocated for the abolition of the prison system while also being involved in groups such as the Black Panthers and the Communist Party USA.
In 1970 she was named among the FBI’s Top 10 most wanted fugitives after guns belonging to her were used in a botched escape attempt of three Black prisoners, known as the Soledad Brothers, accused of killing a prison guard.
During their trial, the brother of one of the prisoners attempted to aid them in escaping by entering the courtroom, armed with the guns owned by Davis, taking the judge, prosecutor and three jurors as hostages and arming the three men. Four people, including the judge, were killed after a shootout with police.
Davis fled California and became a fugitive, and was later found and arrested on suspicion of murder, among other charges, in New York City. Davis was later acquitted of all charges against her and continued to lecture at universities and be a political activist.
Funicello himself also shares a history of being accused of a crime that would later be cleared.
In 2013, he was accused of assault under the cover of authority resulting from a 2011 incident — in which it was claimed he beat a teenage prisoner during a transfer. Funicello was offered and accepted a plea agreement and pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor battery charge, which was not an admission of guilt. The charge was later expunged.
This may be the only thing he has in common with his counterpart, as Funicello calls himself an “outspoken conservative” and believes Davis goes against everything America stands for and compared her time spent with the Black Panthers as just as radical as someone being a part of the Proud Boys today.
“The views that she espoused as a Black Panther and as a communist go against every grain of thought of the American way of life and I’m not just talking about conservatives,” said Funicello. “Her whole belief structure is based off of an entire change of the system.”
While the board did not directly address Funicello’s statement, as they are not allowed to directly respond to any public comment for an item not on the meeting’s agenda, they did address the complaint that conservative ideas were not being represented enough on campus.
Joan MacGregor, representing Trustee Area 5, also complained about how Davis’ appearance was booked — which was not a move approved by the board and was an invitation extended by a committee composed of students, faculty, staff and professors — and said she wasn’t even aware of the event until she found out through Facebook.
“I do believe in academic freedom. I believe in a variety of opinions being shared at a college.I have no problems with that,” said MacGregor. “I do think we need to set a policy and look at our policies as it relates to the use of the Performing Arts Center. I think that that is a unique place. I think that in the past the board has approved speakers… but this is a little different.”
COC administrators disputed several of the criticisms leveled by Funicello in his comments to the board.
Funicello argued that guest speakers were disproportionately selected to highlight liberal or left-leaning viewpoints, saying, “There is no diversity of thought here, no inclusivity, no equity, no tolerance, unless of course you’re a liberal.”
COC Chancellor Dianne Van Hook denied this, saying the college has featured speakers from a variety of political backgrounds and ideologies in an effort to present students with a diverse array of ideas for which they can choose to agree or disagree.
“We’re an academic institution of higher education. We believe in academic freedom. We also believe in objectivity, not subjectivity, and in balance, and anyone that has any ideas that they would like us to pursue, to that end, to present a variety of perspectives. We’re certainly welcome to hear those,” said Van Hook.
Diane Fierro, deputy chancellor and chief of diversity, equity and inclusion at COC, said the notion that conservative ideas are not represented in the form of guest speakers is “a misconnection” and that people such as Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, and former congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon have both recently spoken at COC.
“To say that we don’t have both sides of the spectrum, that’s really not the case,” said Fierro, adding that both Democrats and Republicans have and will be among guest speakers.
Fierro said the complaints are not falling on deaf ears, though, and confirmed the series in which Davis will be a part of, the “Anti-Racism Speaker Series,” will feature speakers with ideologies different from Davis’.
Davis will be speaking in COC’s Performing Arts Center on Saturday at 3 p.m. She was paid $25,000 of COC’s allocated funds from the state of California through its Student Equity and Achievement Fund.