Will Smith’s Oscar slap shows danger of equating speech with violence | VICTOR JOECKS

Will Smith, right, hits presenter Chris Rock on stage while presenting the award for best docum ...

Neither Steve Sisolak nor Joe Lombardo will be mistaken for Will Smith. That’s to their credit.

Over the past few weeks, each of those three men heard something they found unpleasant.

In February, a man berated the Gov. Sisolak at a restaurant. “I can’t tell you what a piece of f—ing s— you are,” the man said.

On Monday night, a different man stood next to Sheriff Lombardo at an event and called the Republican gubernatorial candidate a “real piece of s—.”

Both Sisolak and Lombardo ended the incidents by walking away.

Incredibly, both of those incidents came to light because the jerks involved took videos of them. The insults were pathetic enough, but sharing video of yourself acting a fool is a whole other level of idiocy.

Of the three, Smith had it the easiest. He was at the Oscars listening to Chris Rock, a professional comedian. Comedians make jokes. At an event such as the Oscars, they frequently pick on people in the crowd. Oh, the hardships of being rich and famous.

Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith’s wife. Pinkett Smith has a shaved head and suffers from alopecia, which causes hair loss.

“Jada, I love you, ‘GI Jane 2,’ can’t wait to see it,” Rock said.

Perhaps, the most amazing thing about the whole incident was that Smith laughed at the joke. His wife did not appear amused. A few seconds later, Smith decided that he no longer found it funny — or at least he was going to act like it. He walked on stage and slapped Rock.

For a group so obsessed with privilege, the left often misses the most obvious examples. Rich and famous Hollywood celebrities get away with things other people don’t. That doesn’t fit a race-focused worldview, but it’s readily apparent.

Smith wasn’t arrested or even removed. Instead, he returned to the stage shortly thereafter to accept an Oscar for best actor. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Amazingly, some people came to Smith’s defense with this argument. “Will Smith, Chris Rock, and when words are violent, too,” a headline in USA Today read.

“Violence is not limited to slaps and kicks, according to experts who study violent speech and psychological harm,” the article said. “Violence can be the words we use to mock, categorize, exclude and control.”

Can words hurt someone more deeply than a slap? Absolutely. But that doesn’t make them violent. Equating those two things is dangerous and a threat to free speech. Unfortunately, this mindset has significant support among some leftist thinkers and activists.

If words are violent, then insults — or even perceived insults, such as so-called microaggressions — are sufficient justification for punching another person or worse. After all, people have a right to self-defense. That mindset leads to more violence.

It should be obvious how this threatens speech. Making a political argument — or even a true observation such as “men are not women” — could be used to justify physical violence against the speaker. A 2020 poll found 18 percent of college students supported using violence to prevent certain speakers from talking. Not great.

It’s much better to credit those who, like Sisolak and Lombardo, show the maturity to walk away instead of lashing out.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.