Tell me what you think about this letter I wrote in response to Craig's link.
Craig Coller has sent you the following story:
An interesting columnist opinion on the issue: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/columnists/fred_grimm/story/243786.html
The University of Florida police tazering of Andrew Meyer has provoked lots of emotions all over the world, with most opinions falling into two basic camps - either Meyers deserved what he received, or the police over-reacted. My opinion is that the police were wrong to detain Meyers, the police were wrong to arrest Meyers, and the police were wrong to tazer Meyers.
The following editorial comes closest to my opinion: http://www.news-journalonline.com/NewsJournalOnline/Opinion/Editorials/opnOPN42092107.htm
The people who believe that the officers were justified in their detention, arrest and tazering of Meyers should really consider the world-wide revulsion against the officers' acts, the protests by the students at the University, and the suspension of the officers involved by the president of the University.
This morning I read the reports from the officers involved, and it is clear that the arresting officers totally misjudged the tone and nature of Meyers' questions to Kerry.
Here are the reports: http://i.a.cnn.net/cnn/2007/images/09/18/offense.report.072274.pdf
What's most amazing of all is that the reason that the first arresting officer gave for her decision to interrupt Meyers' question and Kerry's answer was that Meyers used a profanity and was "inciting a riot". What was this profanity? It was the word "blow-job"! Meyers was in the process of asking Kerry why he did not support impeaching Bush, when, after all, Clinton had been impeached for a mere "blow-job". Clinton was not actually impeached for the blow-job, but for allegedly lying about the blow-job. Also, Kerry is a United States Senator, but the House of Representatives has the Constitutional role of impeachment. Only after the president is impeached does the Senate try the case. I'm sure that Kerry could have clarified these points had he been given the opportunity to do so by the University of Florida police.
So what was the problem with the police stopping Meyers at the Kerry speech? The event was a public event at a public university with a public figure. The questions by Meyers were pointed, but were not profane or disturbing. They were not stupid or irrelevant questions. Kerry was engaged with Meyers' questions, saying that he already had a copy of Greg Palast's book, and that he had read the book. During the police scuffle Kerry tried to stop the officers by saying that he would answer the questions. "That's all right, let me answer his question." Meyers clearly indicated that he had four questions and was in the middle of asking the final question when he was physically hauled away by the police. Meyers clearly indicated that he did not intend to speak indefinitely. His questions were not "screamed" at all. Where was the incitement to riot? That charge was ultimately dropped in favor of "disturbing the peace". Referring to Clinton's blow-job is disturbing the peace? The video of Meyers' questions up to the point of Meyers' detention was actually fairly mild and totally appropriate for the circumstances. Kerry was not bothered by it. This was a political event. This was politics. Those questions were not "inciting a riot" or "disturbing the peace". It was normal civil discourse.
We should compare the police reaction up to this point with the police reaction in another incident that happened in May 2006. (http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/05/05/1432203) At a news conference, Ray McGovern, a former CIA officer and organizer of "Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity" had a very testy exchange with Donald Rumsfeld, then Defense Secretary, in which McGovern basically accused Rumsfeld of lying to the American people. Guards started moving to seize (maybe just detain, or arrest, or who knows what?) McGovern, who turned, looked acidly at the approaching guards and asked loudly, "This is America?" To his credit, Rumsfeld waved off the guards, and the guards listened to Rumsfeld. I hate to say it, but that action made Rumsfeld look good. Kerry, on the other hand, looked weak and ineffectual. Kerry was a leader against the war in Viet Nam. Kerry led protests. What happened to Kerry at the University of Florida?
What happened is that at the moment the police decided to detain Meyers, the incident became a "police action", and Kerry and everyone else in the room went into programmed intimidation. To his mild credit, Kerry meekly protested. Some students screamed at the police to leave Meyers alone. About 7 people shot video of the police brutality as it was happening. Over fifty students present at the event signed letters of protest against the officers involved. Over 350 students protested at the University the next day. These opinions can't just be ignored.
What was wrong with the police behavior at the point of the detention? No one has the absolute right to ramble on forever and to dominate a public meeting. Clearly not. Last year our neighborhood had a meeting to discuss drug dealing and other illegal behavior by some members of one of the families (I'll call them the Smiths) who lived on our block. The meeting was held in a private house, and the Smiths were not invited. There was a police officer present, in addition to a Berkeley City Council representative and some other city officials. Early in the meeting, four members of the Smith family enetered the meeting, and proceeded to disrupt and dominate the proceedings. They would not shut up and they would not allow other people to speak. There were about 30 other people at the meeting, all sitting there stunned. We all listened to the Smiths ramble on and on for about 45 minutes, and ultimately they left. It would have been the right of the homeowner to ask the Smiths to leave. They allowed the Smiths to stay, and it was a great decision because it allowed the Smiths to vent their steam. Ultimately, the Smith grandmother pressured the drug dealers to move out.
If the Accent organizers of the Kerry speech wanted to stop Meyers from continuing to ask his questions, they should have used a gradual series of moves before calling in the armed police. Instead, they escalated so quickly that it really makes people wonder about their motivations. Here is another opinion about this point:
I agree with Wolfgang's 2nd point: Why in the world were police in such close proximity to the speaker? From almost any perspective you care to name, close proximity of armed, uniformed police must be seen as having a dampening effect on public discourse.
Certainly, security personnel to protect the Senator are necessary, but it seems to me that the police were acting as program staff for the event, deciding independently what participants could say or do - even if it didn't fall in the domain of security. There were certainly event organizers in attendance; what gave the armed policeman the idea that they should be involved in decisions about how long a speaker should speak, or what they should say?
Their image of their editorial presence is reminiscent of those repressive cultures, past and present, which we abhor. It was shameful even before they misused their power over those they were obligated to protect. Certainly, one student was injured by their actions, but all of us were hurt by the demonstration that it is becoming commonplace for those outside of the academy to use their power (sometimes physical, but always brutal) to put a chill on truly open and free expression of ideas, and questioning of those in whom we have placed public trust.
Shame on those officers, and shame on any academician who defends their despicable actions.
Meyers was testing the edge of the envelope, but that edge turned out to be too hard. Questioners had a limited time to deliver their questions. Meyers had his microphone cut off at one minute and 29 seconds, and the police action began at one minute and 31 seconds. This is just not reasonable. We've all seen the presidential debaters go over their time limit. What really was the problem with allowing Meyers to finish his last question and then to listen to the answer? Kerry indicated that he wanted to answer the question. The police unfortunately interfered in this political process. It should have been Kerry, and not the police, who determined the appropriateness of the questions. How did the officer come to the conclusion that the word "blow-job" is a profanity? It's not banned by the FCC. It was used in a political context, not as a pejorative. How can using the word "blow-job" possibly be an incitement to riot, except maybe if yelled loudly at the back of the Condor Club on Broadway in San Francisco with Carol Doda on stage?
The police training seems to be that once a police action has started, there can be no question as to its legality or appropriateness or wiseness. It is a state of mind which can lead to automatic escalation and can lead to tragedy. Recently there was a very unfortunate incident in Sebastopol, California in which two parents called the cops because their mentally disturbed teenage son was out of control. The teenager locked himself inside a van with a small knife and refused to get out. The incident ended with the teenager shot to death by the police. The kid was locked inside a van and posed no threat to anyone but himself. The police could have waited a while for emotions to cool down. Instead, they escalated the situation and shot the kid. It makes you think twice about calling the cops.
Did Meyers go to the event with the intention of getting arrested? Probably. However, that does not excuse the misbehavior of the officers. This incident has shed light on the serious problem that many people are so afraid of the cops that it is inhibiting legitimate political speech. During the scuffle after his detention, Meyers evaded the police, but he did not use force against them. He was wearing shorts and a T-shirt so as to indicate that he had no concealed weapons. As he was detained, he raised his arms with his palms out, not as a threatening gesture, but as a way of showing that he had no weapons, and to make it more difficult for the police to grab his arms. He resisted arrest, not passively, but not violently either. Legally he might be convicted of resisting arrest, but if I was on the jury, I'd let him go free because there was no reason to arrest him in the first place. Maybe that's why we have juries. Should resistance to a false arrest be automatically punished? If it is, then we've regressed to the level of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The Soviet constitution guaranteed freedom of speech, but people who tried to display signs were often arrested for "littering". Maybe the Buddhist monks now marching in Myanmar will be arrested and shot and charged with "jaywalking".
Six officers tackled and held down a 175 pound guy. Three of the officers looked like they weigh more than 250 pounds each. They got the handcuffs on his right hand, but had trouble getting his left hand over, so they tazed him, according to their reports. I think that if the officers had not tazed him, the videos would not have gone viral on the internet. The use of the tazer was simply unjustifiable and repressive, not only to Meyers, but by extension to all students. From the video it seems that the police actually tazed Meyers because he would not shut up, not because he was violent. That's not a valid reason to use a tazer. I hope that as a result of this incident many universities will ban tazers on campus.