The media covered the event quite heavily, and what I recall most poignantly from standing in and amongst the crowd, which included Iraq war veterans, was a haunting, and often moving, undercurrent of solidarity – interlaced with something akin to gratitude. The mood could have been desperate, and in some ways, it was – acts of civil disobedience themselves are acts of desperation; we actively disobey when we feel that irresponsible, detrimental, and degrading policies leave us with the sense that we have no other choice but to disobey. Nonetheless, there seemed a common understanding that the protest itself, and our very right to protest, was the exercise of a freedom for which we were, and are, grateful.
It struck me as extremely ironic, then, that a student at the University of Florida, Andrew Meyer, was tasered on Monday after being pulled away from a microphone in the course of asking Sen. John Kerry heated questions about the last election and his connection to President George W. Bush. The student resisted university police, and though the various internet videos open up a host of factual questions, one theme cropping up on the interweb seems to be, ‘Well, what did this kid really do?’ Or more pertinently, ‘Did the police have a right to silence him?’
Though Con Law for 1L’s doesn’t rear its head until next semester, a jaunt around the American Jurisprudence, Second Edition yields some interesting commentary on the relationship between “place restrictions” (such as designated public forums and limited public forums) and constitutional limits on free speech. A white paper on First Amendment Free Speech and Assembly from the University of Arizona Office of the General Counsel sheds some light on the subject in the university setting.
Another question likely to arise in the context of the UF incident, as well as that of an incident that occurred a little over a week ago involving the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president of the Hip Hop Caucus, centers around appropriate levels of police force in these situations. Rev. Yearwood, who attempted to enter the General Petraeus hearing, was tackled by six Capitol police officers after he resisted. Authorities initially charged the Reverend, later taken to the hospital for injuries, with felony assault.
It is disturbing to me on another level that the Yearwood incident has received far less coverage than that of the UF student, but perhaps both cases will help stoke the coals of healthy debate.