Tuesday, 18 September 2007

My opinion on the Meyer taser controversy

Naomi Wolf writes,

Today's news shows a recognizable shock moment in the annals of a closing society. A very ordinary-looking American student -- Andrew Meyer, 21, at the University of Florida - was tasered by police when he asked a question of Senator John Kerry about the impeachment of President George Bush. His arms were pinned and as he tried to keep speaking he was shocked -- in spite of begging not to be hurt. A stunning piece of footage but unfortunately, historically, a very familiar and even tactical moment.
[W]hen ordinary people start to be hurt by the state for speaking out, dissent closes quickly and the shock chills opposition very, very fast. Once that happens, democracy has been so weakened that major tactical and strategic incursions -- greater violations of democratic process -- are far more likely. If there is dissent about the vote in Florida in this next presidential election -- and the police are tasering voters' rights groups -- we will still have an election.

What we will not have is liberty.

We have to understand what time it is. When the state starts to hurt people for asking questions, we can no longer operate on the leisurely time of a strong democracy -- the 'Oh gosh how awful!' kind of time. It is time to take to the streets.

I wrote the following comment in response to the rather extreme and overreaching Huffington Post article quoted above.

Andrew Meyer acted out, was warned, was warned again, and did not cease his rebellious behavior. The guy threw a temper-tantrum — and wouldn't stop. Even when pleading not to be tasered he was acting aggressively, arms flailing about as the law enforcement tried to restrain the hot-headed questioner of Sen. John Kerry. The police operated according to procedure; stop politicizing what is essentially not a case of police brutality but of someone disturbing the peace and not stopping — for the sake of his security and the security of those around him — when told to. He was warned; he ignored the warnings.

I agree there should be an investigation into the police tactics used, but this case is hardly a rallying cry for police brutality. If you want police brutality, look at the inner cities, the prisons, and other serious sites of crime and violence. Gruesome as they might be, a University of Florida student bring possibly rightfully administered a shock from a standard-issue law enforcement device, while being filmed on camera, is hardly comparable to the kind of things that go on beyond the lens.

Watch the video and judge for yourself, but it is my opinion that the Meyer case is vastly over-hyped in order to suit the closed-minded, anti-establishment agendas we often see on sites void of expert opinion and full of self-interested ranting like the Huffington Post (Wolf seems to have written it primarily to help sell her book). I'd rather read commentary from people who know what they're talking about — New York Times op-eds and editorials, The Economist, The Guardian's Comment is Free blog — than slanted news items blown out of proportion.

Just because Meyer was speaking out against Bush doesn't mean this is an unjust case of politically-motivated police power. If the guy had been, say, harassing a lady on the street and not ceasing even when the authorities were trying to cuff him, would you still be crying 'injustice!'? He was not silenced because of his political beliefs, but because he acted against the law, and ignored all warnings.

Another thing I'd like to point out was that the cops who stunned Meyer were university campus police — probably not trained enough with their Tasers anyway — not official, US government police. There are plenty of examples of university police misusing their weapons, like in the ridiculous UCLA tasering case, but this University of Florida case doesn't seem to be one of them — at least not at the level of other cases. However this tasering will receive more attention because of pundits wishing to tie it to political bias and the silencing of protesters.

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