Creating people's geographies
UPDATE II: The clearest video clip yet:
Following from the UCLA student tasered last November, another incident is rapidly making its way to international coverage across the web. This time, the student has been tasered for asking a question outside of Q & A time at a Senator John Kerry Town Hall Forum at the University of Florida (UF), Gainesville, on Sept 17.
At first sight, the video clip is rather disturbing. It behooves us to investigate further and to mention the prior lead-up however, without for a minute condoning the use of these stun-guns. Partial, over-drawn misrepresentations do not help anybody, least of all those of us who cherish our freedoms and who roundly reject the creeping criminalisation of dissent.
By most accounts (a collection of links compiled by the local Gainsville Sun press appears here), all UF journalism student Andrew Meyer, 21, did was ask a few questions at or near the termination of a Q & A at this event. A video clip hosted here seems to show more coverage of Meyer’s questions than do the clips available at YouTube. Video clip subsequently posted above shows better coverage of Andrew Meyer’s questions; youtube user Fozzymandias writes:
I couldn’t get to my camera in time to record his entrance, but this guy basically comes running in with 4 or 5 cops in tow and says he has been running around trying to get in to ask a question and the cops are going to arrest him for it. they almost do it then but Sen. Kerry says he will answer it.
The questions, though stridently expressed, appear to be neither rude nor threatening. Meyer first asks Senator Kerry why he had too readily conceded the 2004 presidential election when there were obvious examples of voter machine fraud, disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida and Ohio and the compelling case that Kerry had won; Meyer refers to a copy of investigative journalist Greg Palast‘s Armed Madhouse in his hand. He quickly follows with the question of why there had been no moves to impeach President Bush especially with another act of military aggression gearing up, this time towards Iran, and ends by asking about Kerry’s membership in the Yale-based Skull and Bones secret society (last part of the question recorded in youtube video clips, appended).
Depending upon which video clip you see, there does appear to be some audience protest at the back of the auditorium when Meyer is being tasered. Again, at first sight, it is curious that police officers were stationed so closely to the audience mike and set upon this student, wielding naught but a book, so quickly. The police incident report alleges that Meyer was in line to ask a question of Sen. Kerry when it was decided that no more questions would be allowed, which might conceivably account for their close proximity to an apparently agitated Meyer, but would hardly constitute a justification for what transpired next.
Meyer insisted, perhaps rather boorishly, that he wanted to be allowed ample preface to his question to the senator because he had been waiting for two hours throughout the Senator’s presentation (see video clip here). Kerry does direct that Meyer be allowed to ask his question, so his subsequent seizure by several police officers seems rather odd. As all video clips have shown, Meyer was dragged towards the back of the lecture hall before being held to the ground and hit with the taser gun.
The Times reports that
The student, Andrew Meyer, who was well-known on campus for his practical jokes, was Tasered after jumping the queue to ask Mr Kerry a series of questions in a Florida University lecture hall on Monday.
Even if Meyer’s was a grandiloquent, attention-grabbing stunt, the administering of electroshock tasering would seem unwarranted based on the Senator’s clearly expressed agreement to respond. I’ve seen many disappointed questioners turned away from lack of time at forums, some waiting at the mike queue for ages and deprived of their opportunity. Meyer’s insistence was at worst bombastic, but hardly seems to constitute a public nuisance or threat.
And I’m sure many of us have been to forums where long-winded “questions” (read polemical diatribes) are asked. Usually, an insistent audience and/ or panel “and your question is?” is enough to prod the questioner back to his or her question and off the soapbox.
Meyer could well be a publicity-seeking yahoo, but going by the video tapes, the police’s reaction is uncalled for. We would also do well to recall that these “non-lethal” weapons are hardly non-lethal — they have actually killed 200 people in the last five years, and are used extensively in places like Iraq. In a time of increased citizen harassment and curtailment of civil liberties in our ostensibly free and democratic societies, police and government officials might wish to consider moves aimed at reassuring and restoring public confidence rather than simply confirm suspicions of a police state that no longer needs to hide its transgressions, instead committing them openly before crowds in auditoriums.