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”.
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!”