Fascism Rising: Suppressing Speech with Tasers

I hate to alienate readers by starting with a Noam Chomsky quote, but oh well. Chomsky once said, “If you are in favor of freedom of speech, that means you are in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise – otherwise you’re not in favor of freedom of speech.”

I am sure by now you’ve heard the story of Andrew Meyers, a 21-year-old student who was arrested and taser’ed by four or five University of Florida police officers because he was loud and rude at a political Q-and-A session with John Kerry.

When he was being dragged off the podium, the audience applauded. To be fair, that was probably because Meyers was impassioned, and probably was asking questions that made people uncomfortable. Possible voter fraud in the 2004 election, impeaching Bush for war crimes: neither of these are things the average Floridian probably finds to be in alignment with their own view of the world.

I don’t think police should have the right to escort me away from the podium when I’m speaking to an elected representative of government. This is a democracy. Sometimes it’s loud, sometimes it’s rude, things don’t always go according to plan. Questions aren’t always easy ones, and questions can make people uncomfortable. But that’s democracy. It’s messy, but through the chaos, our voices get heard.

Fascists were very good at making sure Q-and-A sessions were orderly. No one went over their time limit, and no one asked a question a politician didn’t like.

If Meyers had only been escorted out of the building, I would find that to be a violation of his First Amendment rights and I’d want the State to force those police officers to take some training courses. The first course would force every one of them to read the U.S. Constitution, before they go around supposedly protecting the rights it describes.

But it didn’t stop there. They didn’t just escort him out of the building, or practice good old-fashioned diplomacy. They didn’t even grab him — 4 vs. 1 — and drag him out of there.

Despite the fact that he posed no physical threat to the numerous officers around him — he had no weapons, he was throwing no punches, he was just a little squirmy because he had his 1st amendment right trampled upon — the police officers decided it was a good time to try out their new toy. They taser’ed Meyers, and left him writhing in pain in an auditorium full of his peers. A Senator of the US Government stood by and told everyone to “calm down”.

If you haven’t yet, you can see the full video here, and also from another angle (though warning, the latter one is a bit gut-wrenching).

I saw a blog post about the event and Kerry’s response, but what really got to me was the following comment from a reader named “Roman B.” on that blog:

I’ve done my sint as a questioner at political functions in college. Whenever I had my mike turned-off & asked to leave the podium (always at conservative functions, go figure), that’s what I did. I didn’t wait for security to ask me to leave, escort me, argue with them, or get myself in a position where I could get myself in trouble.

This has nothing to do with Andrew Meyer’s freedom of speech, Kerry, Bush, homeland security, 04 elections, left, right, or anything of the sort.

Andrew went up there to the podium with the intent of instigating trouble & he got it. He was dumb enough to get himself into trouble, but smart enough to know he would get the notariety he was looking for.

Why else would he make sure the camera was on?”

I’ve decided to rewrite Roman B’s post, with a few key words changed:

I’ve done my stint as a questioner at political functions in college. Whenever I had my microphone turned off and was asked to leave the podium (always at Nazi rallies, go figure), that’s what I did. I didn’t wait for the SS to ask me to leave, escort me, argue with them, or get myself in a position where I could get myself in trouble.

This has nothing to do with Andrew Meyer’s freedom of speech, or any of the other political issues of Germany’s Third Reich.

Andrew went up there to the podium with the intent of instigating trouble, and he got it. He was dumb enough to get himself into trouble, but smart enough to know the notoriety he was looking for.

He may have died at the hands of the SS, or perhaps he’s working in a concentration camp somewhere (we’ll never know). But this is exactly what he wanted — why else would he have had all his journalist friends of the German Resistance there, taking notes for tomorrow’s paper?

For those of you who do care about the freedom of speech, I urge you to write a letter to the University of Florida Police Department, to the ACLU of Florida, and to the USDOJ. For those of you who think Meyers deserved to get taser’ed (and there are quite a few of you out there), I’ll remind you of the following parable:

They say that if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will leap out right away to escape the danger. But, if you put a frog in a kettle that is filled with water that is cool and pleasant, and then you gradually heat the kettle until it starts boiling, the frog will not become aware of the threat until it is too late. The frog will die without even realizing it.

Or, as Huey Long once said, “Of course we will have fascism in America, but we will call it democracy!”

4 Responses to “Fascism Rising: Suppressing Speech with Tasers”

  1. Eric Marcarelli Says:

    It’s really disgusting the way police use their tasers. They were intended as an alternative to guns, but now they’re basically used as punishment.

    This guy seems rude and was probably taking more time than he was allowed. I don’t know the rules for this particular talk, but there was probably some guidelines people were supposed to follow when they asked questions. You don’t want the same guy up there rambling on for five minutes if there’s a 15 minutes Q and A session and a whole line of people waiting. In any case though, the worst they should have done was ask him to wrap it up, and shut off his mic if necessary.

  2. Eric K Says:

    This situation is tough. Obviously I was not there and therefore do not know the full circumstances around the situation. But I believe there are a separate issues that need to be addressed.

    First, I believe the student has a right to say what he feels and ask whatever questions he wants. It is his freedom to do so. But if in the act of executing his first amendment rights, he denied the first amendment rights of everyone else in that room by not giving them the opportunity to speak, then he is at fault also.

    I feel like the issue that is at the heart of a lot of this, is that elected officials do not answer, or just sidestep the “hard questions.” And thats 100% correct. Who is to blame, is it the elected official who doesn’t want to answer them or is it the general public who does not expect them to be answered. Before you blame the stupid Americans who care more about Paris Hilton than Congress, think about the last time you laughed at George Bush when he misspoke, or when other members of Congress or members of the Administration say something dumb and it gets shown on TV or the Daily Show and you think they’re dumb and don’t deserve to be in office. There are reasons why elected officials have canned answers, two of which are because the general public does not demand them to have anything else and because one little mistake, one innocent mistake, can ruin a career.

    Last, tasering the guy seemed excessive, but again, I was not there. The guy was resisting the cops. What if on the other hand, Andrew Meyers was asking his “difficult questions” and someone else who didn’t like the questions got up and attempted to yell at Meyers, get in his face, drown Meyers out, and refuse to allow Meyers to ask his questions, or, dare I say, express his own right to freedom of speech. Aren’t the cops required to ask this person to stop, ask this person to leave? Aren’t the cops supposed to use force to ensure that Meyers can ask his question? What if the person refuses to leave, do the cops use force to trample this person’s first amendment rights? Or do they allow him to continue, thereby trampling the first amendment rights of Meyers.

    It is indeed a tough situation. I do not like to see someone not allowed to ask a difficult question. And I am not disagreeing with what you are saying. These were just some things that came to my mind that I don’t think were addressed in your post.

  3. pixelmonkey Says:

    Hi Eric M.,

    You wrote:

    “In any case though, the worst they should have done was ask him to wrap it up, and shut off his mic if necessary.”

    This is precisely where we agree. That’s about as far as it should have ever gone. But furthermore, it’s important to note what “they” we are referring to.

    For me, “they” should not have been a group of police officers. The “they” who should have asked him to leave, and potentially cut off his mic, should have been the organizers of the event. If the organizers felt that Meyers was disturbing their gathering, violating its rules, offending others, inciting a riot, what have you, then and only then should the police have gotten involved.

    What I described above may have been what happened (I don’t know enough of the context prior to when the videos online start), but if it is, then it should have stopped “at diplomacy.” A cop should never have pulled Meyers off the mic by hand, especially when it seemed he was finally done asking his question anyway, no matter how long-winded it might have been.

    Now, responding to Eric K.:

    “Last, tasering the guy seemed excessive, but again, I was not there. The guy was resisting the cops.”

    Many people point to this distinction. Let me remind you that resisting the cops when they violate your rights is a natural response. If I were walking down the street one day and a cop came up to me and said, “You’re coming with me”, I’d resist the arrest too. Remember that from the video we can clearly see that the police officers did not make his charges clear. They did not say, “Adam Meyers, we are placing you under arrest for disturbing the peace of this event, and for not complying with our request to leave.” Instead, they just grabbed him. Resistance should be expected.

    “What if on the other hand, Andrew Meyers was asking his ‘difficult questions’ and someone else who didn’t like the questions got up and attempted to yell at Meyers, get in his face, drown Meyers out, and refuse to allow Meyers to ask his questions, or, dare I say, express his own right to freedom of speech. Aren’t the cops required to ask this person to stop, ask this person to leave? Aren’t the cops supposed to use force to ensure that Meyers can ask his question? What if the person refuses to leave, do the cops use force to trample this person’s first amendment rights? Or do they allow him to continue, thereby trampling the first amendment rights of Meyers.”

    I think I addressed this particular issue in my latest post. The short answer: the cops are not required to ask any person to stop or leave if they are being loud or obnoxious. In fact, they are explicitly prevented from doing so, no matter what good intentions they may have.

    The First Amendment is clear in that it only says what things government may not do. It may not make laws infringing speech or assembly. It may not therefore interfere, through law enforcement officers, with free speech or assembly. In other words, the government doesn’t get to pick what speech is worth hearing, when people are speaking for too long, and what people aren’t being polite enough for its standards.

    The First Amendment doesn’t say that the government has to ensure each of our voices get heard fairly in every forum. In fact, if this were government’s responsibility, could I not complain that my free speech rights are being violated because every night, people listen to Bill O’Reilly’s opinions on Fox News for one hour, instead of having pixelmonkey.org posts read to them?

    Meyers may have been loud, obnoxious, and his opinions might have been complete shit. He might have drowned out the voices of two or three students at that rally. But just think of how loud and obnoxious Bill O’Reilly is, how big his audience is, and how you’ll never get to be on his show to debate him unless he decides you’re a liberal worth assassinating. So yes, the First Amendment can be unfair — it can let people speak longer and louder than others. But life is unfair. The key thing here is that the government stays out of it. If the government tells me what I can or can’t say, it’s fascism. Freedom of speech does not guarantee maximum durations, minimum qualities, or anything like that.

    The First Amendment just says the government can’t interfere. When these cops stepped in, they acted as government agents, and interfered. It’s a tough situation alright, but IMO the rights violation is clear. The taser’ing just takes it to a whole other level, and turns what was a free speech issue into a police brutality issue.

  4. Eric Marcarelli Says:

    “For me, “they” should not have been a group of police officers. The “they” who should have asked him to leave, and potentially cut off his mic, should have been the organizers of the event. If the organizers felt that Meyers was disturbing their gathering, violating its rules, offending others, inciting a riot, what have you, then and only then should the police have gotten involved.”

    I would agree, but I believe the police were being used as security for the event, so that was the role the organizers gave them. If they just showed up on their own and started to interfere I’d be outraged at that…

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