where does free speech end and tasering begin?

At a September 17 speaking engagement at the University of Florida, John Kerry was asked a series of questions by Andrew Meyer, a 21-year old journalism student. He asked whether or not Kerry was aware of the research that showed that he had in fact won the presidential election of 2004. He asked why Kerry conceded defeat so quickly. He asked why Kerry and his fellow Senators hadn’t pursued impeachment. Then, he mentioned Kerry’s membership in the Yale secret society Skull and Bones. And that’s when the shit hit the fan.

You can’t exactly make out what’s happening, but the impression you get from the video is that Meyer is knocked to the ground and hit with a stun gun. While you can’t see what’s happening, the audio is clear. Meyer his pulled form the mic, he states that he was just asking a question, some sort of force is applied, and he begins screaming in pain, begging to be released.

I believe I can hear Kerry in the background saying something like, “I’ll answer that,” but it’s hard to say. The person who sent me the link was suggesting, I believe, that he allowed it to happen, but I can’t tell if that’s the case. Regardless, it’s worth watching. In my opinion, the guy should have stopped after making the salient points concerning impeachment and how willingly Kerry had stepped aside after the 2004 election results started coming in. He lost me when he began rambling about Skull and Bones, and apparently the police had had enough of him by that point too. I’m sure that the conspiracy theorists out there will claim that it had something to do with the mention of the super-secret society that counts both Kerry and Bush as members, but I suspect it has more to do with the increasing power we’re giving to our security personnel and the decreasing value we’re placing on free speech in this society. Don’t take my word for it though. Other people, like former Reagan administration Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Paul Craig Roberts are saying it with a lot more authority. Here’s a clip from Roberts’ analysis:

…Usually when police violate constitutional rights and commit acts of police brutality they do it when they believe no one is watching, not in front of a large audience. Clearly, the police have become more audacious in their abuse of rights and citizens. What explains the new fearlessness of police to violate rights and brutalize citizens without cause?

The answer is that police, most of whom have authoritarian personalities, have seen that constitutional rights are no longer protected. President Bush does not protect our constitutional rights. Neither does Vice President Cheney, nor the Attorney General, nor the US Congress. Just as Kerry allowed Meyer’s rights to be tasered out of him, Congress has enabled Bush to strip people, including American citizens, of constitutional protection and incarcerate them without presenting evidence.

How long before Kerry himself or some other senator will be dragged from his podium and tasered?

The Bush Republicans with complicit Democrats have essentially brought government accountability to an end in the US. The US government has 80,000 people, including ordinary American citizens, on its “no-fly list.” No one knows why they are on the list, and no one on the list can find out how to get off it. An unaccountable act by the Bush administration put them there…

Not being able to see what actually happened in this particular instance in Florida, I think he might be overstating things a bit, but, generally speaking, I think he’s making an incredibly valid point. We have, as a culture, allowed the seeds of a police state to be planted. We can debate whether or not we’re actually there yet, but there’s really no question that we’ve set the stage…. And it doesn’t look as though we want that to change anytime soon.

[Thanks to Kathleen for sending these links.]

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  1. maryd
    Posted September 23, 2007 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    I am very concerned that Ypsilanti Police now are getting tasers. There seems to be numerous examples of abuse of tasers and the potential for more in our home town.

  2. egpenet
    Posted September 23, 2007 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Cheif Matt has said that he is making the rounds of community and neighborhood groups to discuss the taser, its possible uses and to get input on policies he will recommend to council. His presentations also include a demonstration of a taser on an inanimate target.

    Generally considered a non-lethal weapon, it can, properly employed, be a useful tool.

    Cheif Matt has told the D.A.Y. (Downtown Association of Ypsilanti) that the taser’s reputation among the criminal community is that when threatened with a taser “both hands go high in the air. No one wants to be ‘tasered’.”

    If your local group wants a demo, contact Chief Matt.

  3. egpenet
    Posted September 23, 2007 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I know how to spell Chief … i before e except after c, and all that. I just can’t type.

  4. Posted September 23, 2007 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think the dangers of what occurred at the Kerry speech can be easily overstated. The principles that stand behind our right to free speech shouldn’t be minimized, nor should those that exercise the right. The question isn’t whether this guy was being a jackass or a boor, it’s whether he was doing something illegal that warranted arrest.

    It’s easy for police to marginalize rabble-rousers by charging them with “breaching the peace” and “resisting arrest,” but that doesn’t in any way speak to core issue of whether or not this young man should have been arrested for merely speaking his mind at the end of the speech. Even if we assume the worst — that once the speech and Q & A was over, this guy jumped up without permission and yelled challenges to Kerry in a crowded hall, it’s pretty hard to see how that could conceivably constitute a crime, or constitute probable cause for an arrest.

    Increasingly, across the nation, in our govt’s “post 9-11” state of fear, police are instructing people to do things that they don’t have any right to instruct them to do, and then arresting them for failing to follow the instruction. Since many people don’t realize that police action in our country is strictly limited to instances where a clear threat is perceived or when probable cause is present, they get away with it. The police shouldn’t be interfering with free speech rights, particularly at political speeches, yet we seem to be seeing this trend become more and more ubiquitous. No doubt someone is going to have to “make a federal case” by filing a lawsuit and costing some state or municipality a boatload of money before the pendulum begins to swing back.

    ‘Tis in my view, a sad shame. Speaking up is something we (and by extension our govt) should value, not condemn.

  5. mark
    Posted September 23, 2007 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I’d forgotten that our local police were being given tasers. Thanks for putting the local spin on the story, maryd.

  6. Posted September 23, 2007 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    On YouTube, there are a couple other videos of the incident in Florida which show what happened more clearly. It’s worth it to take a look.

    First of all, the jackass was allowed to talk for quite some time, and ask several questions, even though others were supposed to be allowed their turn too. So, he was allowed to push or violate the rules on that. Then he was obviously warned to ask his question move on, letting the next person approach the mic no doubt. You can see them tell him. He then goes on and on like a nut, and without regard for the time and opportunity of others to ask questions. When the police officers take hold of his arm and tell him he is to leave the room, he starts resisting. He escalated the situation by doing that. He even starts flailing his arms in order to free himself from the guards and shows no regard for the fact that he strikes the officers at times with his arms. That’s assault. Assaulting a police officer is a crime, and for good reason. If every moron who wants to go wild in whatever way they feel inclined is allowed to struggle with police in a way that results in the battery of those officers, we would have utter chaos. That idiot in Florida was not conducting himself in a manner at all within the bounds of lawful behavior, once he attempted to break away from the escort out of the room. The incident which he escalated to violence unnecessarily is just the kind of thing which people like the Bush Administration’s security teams point to as justification for their ‘preempting’ protesters by detailing them even though they haven’t done anything.

    The asshole in Florida did not get an overreaction from police there. When he violated the rules of the even, they let him finish his question and began to escort him peacefully from the room. He then violently broke from their grasp and they are obligated to restrain him at that point. While they tried to restrain him, he resisted violently. There is a big difference between non-cooperation and violent resistance. When you flail around and strike officers as a result, you must be restrained by force. That’s for the safety of the officers and for the safety of bystanders. When they were trying to get the cuffs on the guy, he started kicking and elbowing them. What were the officers supposed to do at that point? He had to be subdued. Had this guy been a slightly different kind of nut than we assume he was, and the officers backed off from him when he became violent, they would be liable for anything he did to anyone.

    So did the officers at Virginia Tech act too slowly and too indecisively, or did the ones in Florida act too decisively and aggressively. I’m glad I am not a cop having to deal with this crap.

  7. mark
    Posted September 23, 2007 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, that footage helps clarify things. And that’s why I was a bit reluctant in my post to join Paul Criag Roberts in his assessment. I thought that perhaps it might have played out like that, even though, going on the audio, it sounds quite a bit different. This doesn’t change my opinion, however, that human rights are disolving as the power of the state increases.

  8. Posted September 24, 2007 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Being a loudmouth isn’t a crime. Goodness knows if that were that case, I’d be doing hard time at Gitmo.

    Comparing a loudmouth at a political speech to what happened at Virginia Tech is ridiculous. It does, however, illustrate the fallacy of the underlying premise of Bush’s assault on the other right our current administration is hell-bent on curtailing: the right to privacy.

  9. Robert
    Posted September 24, 2007 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    I’d be right there at Gitmo with you, thick skinned shark. The only reason I mentioned the VT and UF things in the same sentence was to make the point that campus cops have very difficult jobs where split second decisions have to be made. A person could be a serious threat to others or he may just be a loud-mouth acting up. It is difficult for those who are in the position of having to assess all the possibilities.

    You also can’t argue with the fact that the UF officers were not the one’s who escalated the violence in that incident. I would like to see how well any of these critics of the cops would handle these situations if they were in their shoes. A jackass who is flailing about ‘accidentally’ striking officers, and then kicking and elbowing officers when they are trying to cuff him, is asking to be tasered.

    Personally, I would have tasered that guy when I saw him in line at the registration office…nip that in the bud.

    I do agree with both shark’s and mark’s points regarding the trend toward the dissolving of human rights in America. However, the UF overreacted only slightly, if at all, and probably mostly because they were not in the best shape to deal with that kid physically.

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