Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Freedom in America

Wow - this is disturbing. A student asks questions (albeit, obnoxiously) at a John Kerry forum, and ends up getting tasered:

So, if you go over your time limit in a public forum, and the police come to drag you away (is it illegal to be a conspiracy nut now?), and you object, expect to be legally tasered. I'm guessing the officers will not get in trouble, since they were probably following "proper procedure."

Such is state of free speech in our country.


DeAnna said...

Wow, this is a rough one. (Howdy, btw, been reading for a while, but might not have commented before.) The kid reminds me of some folks I used to play basketball with in high school. Upon the slightest bump from an opponent, they would fling themselves on the ground holding a body part and yell in pain, waiting for the referee to call a foul. On a personal level, I totally would have tasered him if he had chosen to escalate the situation the way he did. Even though I think his questions are good and valid ones.

On a political level, it seems like a bad call. I wonder if the officers got in trouble behind closed doors for it. It's certainly not the image John Kerry is trying to present.

Dan S said...

I don't think John Kerry had much much to do with this because they were university police. Heck, it is troubling that they even put the police right next to a microphone at a supposedly open forum.

However, it does represent a good metaphor for current politics: Republicans unnecessarily torturing someone while Democrats stand limply by.

I'm glad you read the blog, but I'm sad that you would have tasered him.

Amishlaw said...

I agree with you, Dan. Those cops were totally out of line. The guy didn't do anything except talk for too long. Who gave the cops the right to decide he had talked too much and needed to be escorted out? Kerry didn't ask them to do it. They need to be fired.

patrick said...

What university was this? Talk about clueless campus police (and a bit trigger happy, eh?). They certainly ought to be fired if they can't figure out how to remove someone peacefully. I can't figure out why they resorted to the cops to cut him off anyway--where's the moderator or responsible adult for the forum (clearly the cops were not serving in this function)? The kid talks for all of about 30 seconds--you can't really accuse him of rambling on excessively, can you? (My children would be pulling out the tazer at our dinner table every evening if 30 seconds of rambling merited such a response.)

He wasn't even a heckler (not that it matters)--he was a Kerry supporter (sort of).

And the big question is, if they wanted him to shut up, why didn't the guy at the sound board just shut off the microphone?

Very odd, but to me it seems a stretch to link this to some broader comment on America and systematic suppression of free speech (since he was sympathetic, in theory, to Kerry). Now, if we'd seen this sort of thing at the congressional hearings with Gen. Patraeus, that'd be a different story. (sorry I'm rambling. Hey!)

Dan S said...

it seems a stretch to link this to some broader comment on America and systematic suppression of free speech (since he was sympathetic, in theory, to Kerry)

But it wasn't Kerry who suppressed his speech, it was the police. I would bet he wouldn't have been tackled and tased if he was singing Bush's praises. In that sense, it was definitely about suppression of speech - challenging Bush's legitimacy.

I don't know about systematic though - I suppose it depends on the defintion of systematic. Certainly Dick Cheney isn't
secretly pulling the strings of this particular police department. :) But it is part of a larger pattern: so-called "free speech zones", where protestors are relegated to be a mile away from Bush's presence during his visits. People being thrown out of public events for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts. Reports of illegal arrests and police harrassment at most demonstrations these days. FBI infiltration of Quaker peace groups. They may not be coordinated, but there is certainly an intolerance of dissent that expresses itself in violation of speech rights.

It worries me that our country, despite its high flying rhetoric about freedom, seems to value it so little in practice.

DeAnna said...

I should clarify. At the point where they tasered him, I would have tasered him also. Hopefully, I would not have have found myself in that situation to begin with. Let's overlook the astronomical odds against me being a campus police officer, and pretend I was standing there next to the mic in uniform, and I had been told that it was my duty to stop people from talking after their 30 seconds was up (no doubt, that was a bad job of delegation as Patrick points out, someone else should have been in charge of that, but I doubt it was the officers themselves who made that decision).

I like to think that I would have thought of some other options before just dragging the guy off. Like taking away the mic or turning it off, or simply pointing out to the gentleman that Kerry was trying to answer his question if he would just shut up. But let's just say that my partner, perhaps even with the intention of whispering another subtle hint in the guy's ear, puts his hand on the guy's shoulder and the guy starts screaming bloody murder as if he's being beaten with a brick or something. That's the point where the guy chose to enter into the escalation and at which I can't completely blame the outcome on the police. The questioner completely helped (I might even argue that he did so with conscious intent) to create the whole scenario.

Of course, as the ones holding the tasers, the campus police should have training in how to de-escalate such situations. I doubt that they do, and that is a system problem, not something for which the individuals should be fired.

In the bigger picture, isn't firing someone more violent than tasering them? Is it more violent to take away someone's means to support themselves and their families because they had poor training, or to cause someone a few moments of physical pain? Isn't everyone jumping to some pretty radical assumptions about the culpability of the police? Can all of you say that you have never found yourself in a violent interaction that has escalated beyond your intention or abilities?

I agree that, based on this tiny shred of evidence, it sure seems like there's a system problem with security and free speech at this university. Blaming any of the individuals in the video for that is just another version of blaming the victim.

The only person on the scene who might have been able to make a difference was Kerry himself, who could have made a stand and insisted in a loud and commanding voice that the officers release the guy. And if it didn't work, it at least would have made him look good.

jeffcs said...

Yesterday on talk radio,they speculated that this may have been staged by the University of Florida (or so the host said) student. Sounded as if he has done a number of practical joke video using YouTube. As I watched the video on your post, I was sickened by what I saw. But after hearing that it might have been staged, I was even more sickened by that scenario--that someone would play on our emotions.

brownie said...

Freeze! Back away from your keyboards now. All of you. Wait! STOP!!

That's it, you're all getting the taser.


Didn't want to have to do it, but you were asking for it. Now just be glad you're not all going to the hoosegow.

Now all you troublemakers clear out...

Dan S said...

No Brownie No! I'll just be quiet if you don't .... AEEEIIIHHHH!

Dan S said...

Jeff, I'd be greatly offended too if this was a prank. But, I don't see any evidence of that. From what I understand, he had some anti-war stuff up on his web site, so I would guess his strong feelings are real. I would bet the talk show is just going after his credibility to misdirect everyone from the tasing. But, I didn't hear it, so I'm guessing too :)

Fingtree said...

I heard that police departments across America get kick backs from the company that makes the Taser. When ever it's used they get a royalty, not unlike the music biz. The compensation goes up when it's a high profile Tasering like this one at the John Kerry forum. Also, this happening at a John Kerry event should now convince the NRA right(Democrats are gonna take our guns away) red necks, that John Kerry is Pro-Gun afterall.

snarkbutt said...

I read some local newspaper articles about this. Kerry did try to intervene and stop the police. "That's all right," Kerry said. "Let me answer his questions." (News Journal, Daytona Beach, Sept 21.)

I think both the police and the obnoxious student were at fault. The police supposedly tasered him for "inciting a riot," which is just ridiculous. They overreacted, were clueless and unprofessional and should be reprimanded and re-trained.

On the other hand, I tend to agree with deanna that this guy seems like an attention-seeking flopper. When police are trying to pull you away from a microphone, and you resist, how are they supposed to interpret that? You posted this as an example of how free speech is being suppressed. Do you sincerely think that you, Dan, would have been tasered in that same situation? That you wouldn't know how not to escalate the situation? You're a parent: you know that it's rarely the original transgression that gets you into trouble, it's the fallout afterward.

This reminds me of the story of a guy at UCLA who was tasered in the library because he wouldn't leave. They had a policy that all library users after a certain hour had to have an ID. This guy refused to show any ID. Staff called campus police, who tried to escort him out, but he wouldn't go. They tried to forcibly remove him and he went limp. He started screaming "Here's your fucking patriot act!" across the library. They tasered him. Overkill? Perhaps, but there's NO WAY the police look good in that situation, whatever they do. They guy was determined to make a scene.

Back to the story at hand, it wasn't what he said, but how he said it.

I would bet he wouldn't have been tackled and tased if he was singing Bush's praises. With that statement you've turned the corner into paranoid kookoo-town. I guess the police were under Cheney's imperious curse?

Think about it for a second: The guy was antagonizing Kerry. The Bush drones among the campus police shouldn't have any problems with that.

Dan S said...

Snark, did you even watch the whole video? Yes, he was yelling and making a scene like an idiot. No I probably wouldn't have reacted that way, but that isn’t the point. At no time was he a danger to himself and others, which is supposedly the only time a taser is to be used. Also, Kerry made a snarky comment while the guy was screaming for help that he was sorry the guy wasn't available to come up and swear him in. Not cool.

What are the police supposed to do when someone doesn't cooperate? My answer is: YOU DON'T TASER THEM!!!! As a parent, I don't care what happens prior to an incident, if one of my kids is beating the other who can’t defend themselves, the one doing the beating is at fault, because it is completely unacceptable. They may both get punished if warranted, but the beater is the one who crossed the line and should be held more accountable.

Beside, the foundation of non-violent dissent is non-cooperation with authorities when they are acting immorally or illegally. You give legitimacy to the increased use of tasers if you “understand” why police use them when they are simply annoyed, instead of only when they are legitimately in danger.

"I would bet he wouldn't have been tackled and tased if he was singing Bush's praises." With that statement you've turned the corner into paranoid kookoo-town. I guess the police were under Cheney's imperious curse?

For someone who used to believe in fairness and reason in dialogue, you certainly have slid down a steep slope. So, what, now I’m stupid and loony because I believe the police would not have grabbed the guy if he hadn’t been questioning Bush’s legitimacy as president? Didn’t I make a joke above that it would be ridiculous to believe Cheney is in charge of local police departments?

Watch the video again. After 30 seconds of talking, IMMEDIATELY after suggesting that Bush didn’t win the election, he is interrupted by the police. After another minute, immediately after asking why Kerry isn’t impeaching Bush and whether Kerry and Bush are both members of Skull & Bones, the police grab him, making the first move, and he reacts, both surprised and angry that they would do that. Things escalate from there.

In any case, I will stand by my statement that if he had been giving an impassioned speech about how great George Bush is, he would not have been interrupted nor grabbed by the police. You apparently think the police would have done the exact same thing regardless of the content of his speech, even if he were talking impassionedly about flowers and rainbows. I disagree.

snarkbutt said...

Okay, picture this: The guy holds up a book by Sean Hannity and recommends it to Kerry. He starts talking about the 2004 election and how Kerry tried to steal it. Kerry asks, as he did in the video, "What's your question?" When the police mention that his time is up, he says defiantly, "I've got two fucking questions!" and then continues with his preamble. (This really happened.) His voice continues to rise as he demands to know why Kerry threw away his medals from Vietnam? George Bush wouldn't have done that!! Kerry tries to interrupt to answer the question, but the man continues to spew forth accusations disguised as questions.

Are you honestly telling me that you believe, in all sincerity, that the police would have just stood by and let him rant because of his political position? Would they have stood behind him and nodded their heads? ("Yeah, why won't Kerry admit what a great president Bush is?")

Obviously, I think that's a ludicrous image. The guy was being belligerent. He was looking for trouble and he got it. The tasering was unnecessary and stupid, because it gave the guy exactly what he was looking for: publicity. Did you notice how he shouts if anyone is filming this? He knows someone is filming it, because just before he went up to the microphone, he asked someone to film it for him. (According to the newspaper article I read.) Why do you think this wouldn't happen if he were "singing Bush's praises?" Is it because you think a Bush supporter would not be capable of such a display?

Dan S said...

I’m not seeing the same things you are – in fact, I still wonder if you are getting your info from the video or from write ups about it. He never says the F word - he says "I'm not even done yet, I have two more questions." Then he quickly asks the questions (in an agitated way). Then his mike gets cut, and he says sarcastically "thank you for turning off the mike" and begins to walk away. At that point, as he is walking away, the police grab him, and things escalate from there. There's actually a clearer video than the one I first posted here:

Here's what I think: I think the police grabbed him because they were personally annoyed, not because anyone was in any danger or that any kind of riot was about to break out or even that he was continuing to talk (since, after all, he started walking away). The police didn't give him a chance to walk back to his seat after that. Would the police have grabbed someone walking away if he was swiftboating Kerry in an agitating way, had his mike cut, and started to walk away? I honestly don’t think so. But it would be just as troubling if a conservative got tased.

I don't think it is ridiculous to believe that police are generally more conservative or that they are human and sometimes use their power inappropriately when they get annoyed. Or that I believe that was the case here. But, no I can't prove that to you. It is just my opinion that he was arrested inappropriately and that it was the content (as well as delivery) of his speech that caused it.

As for this being just a publicity stunt, again, I need to question whether you are watching the actual video. He doesn't ask whether anyone is videotaping this, he asks whether anyone is watching it, which seems to me a rhetorical question in the heat of being arrested in front of an audience of people. (after all, he "knows" people are watching – or is there some kind of nefarious motive to this question since we know he knows that?)

I can think of a number of reasons why someone would want a videotape of himself questioning a US senator, not all of which revolve around getting publicity because he has a website.

But let's turn this around. If it were a conservative doing a prank to get attention, would it be any less outrageous if he were arrested and tased? My answer is no, it is still just as outrageous. The prankedness of it relfects only the character of the prankster, which is irrelevant here. What is relevant is being arrested for nothing more than giving an agitated speech and then tased when resisting non-violently to that arrest.