Woman Arrested for Dancing at the Jefferson Memorial (April 14, 2008)

APRIL 14, 2008

Woman Arrested for Dancing at the Jefferson Memorial

The D.C.-based libertarian blogosphere is up in arms today over the Saturday night arrest of D.C. resident Brooke Oberwetter at the Jefferson Memorial. The story goes like this: a group of about 20 nerdy libertarian wonk types gathered at midnight on Saturday for a sort of flash mob at the memorial to celebrate the birthday of their favorite founding father. They gathered at the memorial, each with an iPod, to dance together while wearing headphones.

In the video above, you can watch the group as they quietly danced around the memorial (which, to be clear, is open to the public 24 hours a day, according to its web site). A U.S. Park Police officer can then be seen approaching the dancers and telling them to leave.

The second video, posted below, shows the dancers arguing with Park Police officers about why they're being asked to leave. They say they were quietly dancing with headphones on to celebrate Jefferson's birthday, and that they weren't breaking any laws (which, as far as we can tell, they indeed were not). Toward the end of the video, you can see Oberwetter, 28, being handcuffed and taken into custody. Where was Kevin Bacon when they needed him?

Oberwetter's compatriots have been quick to cry foul, and to point out the arrest's inherent ironies. Radley Balko writes:

Of course, the real irony here is that all of this happened at the Jefferson Memorial, in observance of Jefferson's birthday. Go out to celebrate the birth of the most hardcore, anti-authoritarian of the Founding Fathers, get hauled off in handcuffs. The photo's almost poetry, isn't it? One of history's most articulate critics of abuse of state authority looks on as a park police cop uses his elbow to push a female arrestee into one of said critic's memorial pillars.

Naturally, much of the local libertarian crowd is seriously, vocally upset about what they see as an abuse of police power against one of their own. Especially disturbing is the part of the story that Oberwetter seems to have been arrested mostly because she asked the officer who told her to leave which rules or laws she and her friends were breaking. A Facebook group called "Free the Jefferson 1!" has already popped up. Julian Sanchez has the most sane response we've seen so far:

But they could have anticipated mayhem! There could have been droves of other revelers on the way! They might have been planning to vandalize the monument! Uh, I guess that's possible. But it seems like like reasonable people could have walked up to someone, asked "Hey, what's going on here?", then rolled their eyes at the weird kids and let them finish with their fifteen minutes of silliness.

Exactly. It may have a frivolous event thrown together by a group of people who were more likely to overreact to being told to move along by police than others. But it was also just a group of people who were quietly dancing while wearing headphones, and there just wasn't call for the way park police reacted, either. All they wanted to do was dance!

Oberwetter was released after being held for several hours.