Last night I was alerted to a story of a University of Florida student who was tasered by police while trying to ask a question to Senator and former presidential candidate John Kerry. A friend and reader showed great outrage, putting a link to the video on YouTube on her away message, followed by bombastic statements like, "freedom of speech is dead," and "RIP - first ammendment." She implored me to write about this on the blog, and, after looking at the situation and the issues involved, agreed. I just don't think she'll be happy when I use this platform to disagree with her.
Countless times on this blog I have defended free speech, including my use of it on this blog, censorship from my college at sporting events, and most dear to my heart, when to fight for it, and when it is mired in social and political agenda. As someone who also has a rather "edgy" radio show and who fancies himself a writer, freedom of speech is an incredibly important right that we have to fight for, especially now as our civil liberties seem to wane daily. This case, however, has nothing next to nothing to do with freedom of speech. I know you just got the angry face on and overreacted—again--but let me explain.
Here is the common perception of what happened, as seen on videos from YouTube. A college student asks a political-based question that is not answered. He is then pulled away from the podium by officers of the law as the student yells, "are you watching this? Why are you arresting me?" The student is dragged away kicking and screaming up the aisle towards the entrance for roughly a minute to a minute and a half as a handful of officers try to hold him down. He is eventually tased and taken away. Another angle of the event can be found here, courtesy of Breitbart and YouTube.
This story has been passed on from student to student as a rallying cry, an important reason to stand up and say something (as if we need another reason to). The calls to action are mainly because of three reasons surrounding the event that give it extra credence: a politicized situation, being pulled off of the podium, and police action.
A very crucial aspect is the involvement of John Kerry. If this student came out during a question and answer with, let's say, a distinguished political science professor, would it be different? First, the school wouldn't have used police, letting the Sophomore stable of kids in security blazers deal with keeping the order and peace. Second, his image as the "Anti-Bush" while he stood watching as freedom of speech is being tased out of someone is a big deal. If you read an account of what happened, such as this article which we'll get back to, the question and answer period was over but this student refused to let his answer be heard. He then rushed towards the podium (and, in turn, towards a Senator) after police repeatedly asked him not to.
Once he got up to the podium to ask a question, he didn't ask anything. He ranted, and tarnished an opportunity to ask Sen. Kerry a question that Kerry went out of his way to allow. If this wasn't a Senator on stage, security would have asked him to leave, eventually pushing him out of the auditorium. This isn't an isolated incident, it is routine in this sort of situation. Who hasn't seen someone escorted out by security by not complying with rules?
Throwing gas on the fire, while the student was being pulled away from police, he screams out "why are you arresting me?" Who said anything about being arrested? Why would they, for saying the word "blowjob" in public? I am relatively sure that they were going to escort him out of the building and let him off on his merry way.
Instead, he resisted needlessly from the start. He got so out of hand that he could be not calmed down by two officers and they needed assistance by the other police in the building. Why were there so many police that eventually found themselves around him? Because their job is to take care of security risks and disruptions just like this one.
Let’s be realistic. Could you walk around to a local police officer, have them ask you to stop doing something and resist. After they ask you again to do it you refuse yet again, eventually having them physically touch you. You then tell them to "get the fuck off of you," and resist their control further. Do you think you would get away with it? Apparently so if you’re saying that you were only instituting your right to free speech.
Furthermore, when he was on the ground, he was instructed for a good thirty seconds to roll over and he refused. Instead of simply following their orders, he resisted, choosing to become a martyr or a hero for the cause. He was tasered, following what I assume is procedure, adding the cherry on top. We now have a case for police brutality when the only thing he did was make damn well sure that everyone knew he was getting tased (“please don’t tase me!”) instead of following proper action to ensure that he wouldn’t be.
In conclusion to this section, I think that a kid went out of his way to be a pain in the ass to a police force who might not be prepared to handle this sort of situation. However, to say that he is a victim or some sort of martyr for the cause is taking a gigantic leap. We have fallen victim to the Fox News-ification of all news from all outlets. We are shown a small, selective piece of footage (one of the videos on YouTube is apparently from his own camera, possibly one of the videos linked above) and having it be used to rile everyone up and drown us all in hyperbole.
According to the Gainesville police report, which could very easily be a case of police covering their own asses, discusses how once the student was out of view of cameras he calmed down, reigniting once they got outside where more video cameras were sure to be there. He even went so far as to say, "I am not mad at you guys, you didn't do anything wrong, you were just trying to do your job," according to Mallo's account (from the article linked above). I'm sorry, I'm not falling for getting out my pitchfork for something that was being sensationalized as it was happening.
That does not mean that there are legitimate gripes with freedom of speech involved with this situation, both from the media coverage and the uprising of students over this specific “encroachment” of free speech.
Returning to the Breitbart article, there are some troubling issues brought up in regards to the credibility of the student in this situation. From the AP article, "Video of police Tasering a persistent questioner of Sen. John Kerry became an Internet and TV sensation Tuesday, generating fierce debate about free speech and the motives of the college student involved—a known prankster who often posts practical jokes online."
While I do believe that he overdid his reaction for his fifteen minutes of fame, does this mean that being a prankster suddenly absolves you of any credibility? What if this was genuine? If I'm tased by an officer in a situation where I was in fact incorrectly tased, would this blog somehow make the incident change?
The article goes on, describing the student's website. It contains "...several homemade videos. In one, he stands in a street with a sign that says "Harry Dies" after the latest Harry Potter book was released. In another, he acts like a drunk in a bar while trying to pick up a man dressed in drag." Why is this news worthy? Why does the AP feel the need to critique the comedy styling of someone who is mired in this situation?
To show how classy they are, the AP report then decides to disparage the kid totally, writing, "Another site had pictures of Meyer licking a woman's face and making a suggestive pose as he stood behind a fake cow. The site listed his activities as 'getting wasted' and 'being ridiculous.'" It is one thing to criticize if he was making a big deal out of an isolated situation, but it is quite another to have the audacity to say because he makes silly videos that he shouldn't be regarded with the same respect as anyone else.
Just because someone has immature pictures on his Myspace or irresponsible messages on his Facebook profile doesn’t mean the AP has the grounds to use that against him to damage his credibility. There is a responsible way to discuss the event and the issues involved, and I find it shocking that my blog is being more respectful than the Associated Press. Freedom of speech is one thing, using words as a legitimate and respected news source to destroy a twenty-one year old is simply irresponsible to the highest degree.
Finally, I love how selective we are when we describe Freedom of Speech. The Imus Incident (gotta love those Important Capitalizations) was a clear issue of freedom of speech that hardly anyone got behind. Here is someone who was taken off the air for saying something that was completely FCC compliant and for that reason and that reason alone, does not justify his firing. The outrage only came because it involved an intangible of race. How many people who are saying what a travesty this kid getting tased is and such a slap in the face of the first amendment defended Imus? A handful?
You cannot choose to fight for this right only when it is convenient to you. Of course college kids are going to get up in arms, look at what this incident involves: a college student being "silenced” during a political rant at a politician before being abused by police. There is nothing out of the ordinary here. I just feel that it is disingenuous to label this a first amendment issue because people are upset only for the factors of age, police, and a politicized situation. And, once again, it's going to be heresy to come out against this as a true indictment of freedom of speech because of those attached factors.
The real shame of this entire situation is that even the first amendment could be so easily warped to fit a specific situation that has little relevance to what is really going on while a genuine case of censorship is laid to waste because of the racist and sexist implications involved. I love the fervor, I do, it's just sadly misplaced and badly timed.