Maybe you've heard about this incident from yesterday, maybe you haven't. If not, let's recap.
Senator John Kerry was speaking at the University of Florida, when Andrew Meyer, a student, burst into the room and ran towards a microphone, attempting to ask Kerry a question. Meyer got very passionate in his mic time, starting off fairly respectful and together, but soon working himself into a frenzy, going on about voter fraud, finally asking Kerry why, with all this information, had he conceded the 2004 election. Meyer was repeatedly interrupted, but defended his right to speak. Eventually, the mic was cut off, and Meyer was first led, then dragged away. Meyer resisted, asking (yelling) what he was being arrested for, etc. The more he fought, the more these cops grappled with him, until they finally had him face down on the floor, and, after warning him to calm down or get tasered, finally tasered him into submission, cuffed him, and took him out. This was all captured on multiple cameras by students in the auditorium, even following them out of the auditorium and keeping up with the cops, overhearing them claiming they would charge him with "inciting a riot." In the end, Meyer was charged with "disrupting a public event" and "resisting an officer."
Here and here are two views of the incident (the second follows them out), and YouTube is awash with others. Senator Kerry says he is stunned over the incident, which might be a poor choice of words.
Now...on the one hand, this is, frankly, bordering on appalling. To have what looks like about six cops force some guy down, taser him, cuff him, and arrest him for being overly passionate in asking a question, especially when the person being asked is not upset by it and is trying to answer the question, seems draconian, to say the least. With so many videos of it and with the speed of the Internet, I'm sure the UFPD is going to come under fire for this one. They've already said that they will be investigating the amount of force used. The fact that it happened at all isn't shocking, but is is sickening.
On the other hand, Meyer is, in my opinion, an idiot. In the paranoid political climate of today, in an America that is still suffering under the Patriot Act, it shouldn't take much thought to figure out that ambushing someone like that is going to get you pulled down. Even in calmer times, the way you present yourself is just as important...and sometimes, more important...than your message. Speak calmly and well, and people will continue to listen. Scream, rant, mumble, cry...it all obscures your message. This seems to be, along with such concepts as "personal responsibility," a lost concept these days. There's nothing left of the once-proud discussion or debate, it has simply become volume and insult, and what isn't yelled angrily is mumbled weakly with as many disclaimers as possible (for an interesting take on this, watch Taylor Mali give his speech "Totally, Like, Whatever").
Had Meyer been relaxed and calm, he'd have gotten to say his piece, and Kerry would have answered (as he, in fact, tried to do anyway, from what I've been led to understand). Instead, Meyer came in agitation, loud and aggressive, not asking but demanding...and he got a different kind of answer. Hey, I'm all for making a difference, getting to the truth, but I also understand that the nail that stick up gets hammered down.
Even after they cut his mic, when they tried to lead him away, he could have calmed down, and probably gotten out of this with a lot less of a problem. Now, true, a cop tries to drag me away for no reason, I'm going to resist, too. At the same time, if I started this circus with an agitated question (much less one that started out seemingly supportive and then turned nasty), I'm not going to act like I wasn't doing anything. I know that the cops job is to keep the peace; if I break the peace, I do it with full knowledge of my actions. Screaming to those around him to tell people where he's being taken "because they're gonna kill" him is not going to make the cops take it easy on you. Face it, this is the world of today. Anything people film, from important things to dumb stuff, gets posted online, so you don't have to make the cops say you're "inciting a riot" by acting on it.
So, in the end, what do we have? We have police, already on edge, attempting to handle what should have been an easy situation and having to go further than they probably wanted to go to make things happen. We have someone who wanted to make a point, and instead of getting that point across, ending up with a criminal record. Also, we have a country and a world watching, listening, and waiting for an outcome, a large part of which is ready to pounce on one side or the other, regardless of what the end result turns out to be. That's part of the problem. If Meyer is let off, you set a precedent that cold very easily bite you in the ass. If he's convicted, you set another one. On one hand, you have Free Speech, on the other, the Keeping of Peace. either result leads to an outcry that the other is being hurt. In the middle, we have Us, the great mass of people just trying to get on with our lives and have a little fun doing it, being further and further pushed around by things we have no control over. "When elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled," you know.
In the end, you CAN do something about things...you can be responsible for what you do. You can be aware of things around you, and how your actions will not only affect your environment, but how they will be perceived and acted on. If you are going to act with passion, you should not be surprised when the response to your actions is equally passionate.
Were the cops wrong? They did warn the kid that they'd taser him if he didn't relax. It's not as if he didn't know it was coming or understand what they meant. Their job is to enforce the laws and keep the peace, which Meyer was clearly breaking. From other views of the incident, they did not start out with force. Again, the way this kid presented himself made the difference. He could have asked the question calmly and gotten a response, but chose, instead, to use the mic as a way to yell his opinions.
As expected, the forum/blogosphere is blowing up. Lots and lots of screamed and angry opinions on both sides, both ones that are connected and ones that are not. Ultra-conservatives proclaiming that this guy was wrong, ultra-liberals proclaiming the cops were wrong. Lots of comments about the "new police state of America" and related ideas. And, of course, plenty of tough guys saying how, if they'd been there, they'd have jumped up to help the guy fight off the cops...because, you know, that would have helped everything.
Just an ugly thing, all around, and one that will only make things worse. Why? Because one boy couldn't calm down.