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Posted by on Sep 18, 2007 in Media, Politics | 30 comments

Cops Who Tasered Florida Student On Leave In Incident That Sparked Political Firestorm (UPDATED)

Yet another chapter in the low tolerance level some in 21st century America have for strongly expressed, loudmouth views (which are acceptable if expressed on radio and cable talk shows)….in yet another incident involving law enforcement/security types whose fingers get awfully itchy when clutching an instrument of power called a taser.

Here it is, the video that has sparked a firestorm of international controversy, kept the news media, YouTube website and bloggers on all sides quite busy:

The latest from CNN — which has one of the less politically tinged news accounts — notes that the cops involved are now on leave (good thing they weren’t carrying rubber pellet bullets — or real guns) and that some aspects of the tasered student are now raising some eyebrows:

Two University of Florida police officers were placed on leave with pay after using an electronic stun gun to subdue a student who was questioning Sen. John Kerry at a campus forum, the school’s president said Tuesday.

But the student’s behavior and past activities are prompting questions about whether the incident was part of a stunt.

The Florida Division of Law Enforcement will investigate Monday’s arrest of Andrew Meyer, said University of Florida President J. Bernard Machen. Machen called the incident “regretful for us.”

“The thing that I regret is that civil dialogue and civil discourse did not happen,” Machen said. “That’s fundamental to a university campus. Why it didn’t happen is what we’re trying to sort out.”

During Monday’s forum, Meyer came to the microphone to question the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee from Massachusetts.

“You will take my question because I have been listening to your crap for two hours,” Meyer told Kerry, according to the police report of the incident.

He then turned to a woman and said “Are you taping this? Do you have this? You ready?” the report said.

Clarissa Jessup, who contributed I-Report video of the incident to CNN, said Meyer gave her his camera and asked her to shoot video of him posing his questions to Kerry.

But stunt or no stunt, it’s imagery that matters.

A provocation doesn’t become one unless someone is (dumb enough to be) provoked.

If Meyer was indeed trying to get maximum attention, the police sure helped him…and then some.

Images of people trying to speak (even if they make it clear they intend to go way beyond their allotted time) and bluntly talking to candidates (even if talking from far-left or far-right perspectives) and then being dragged off by a group of police using a classic “swarm” technique to overpower him and then taser him do two things: make a) the authorities look like they’re clamping down on speech and dissent and b) create sympathy for the person being swarmed and tasered.

Political Radar notes that Senator John Kerry has expressed shock — and puts it into perspective as an incident indicative of the new YouTube era where images and impressions move with lightning speed…capable of giving authorities (and slow-to-react politicos) black eyes that could prove more painful than taser jolts:

ABC News’ Rick Klein Reports: Sen. John Kerry on Tuesday condemned the arrest of a University of Florida student at one of his speeches, saying that he was engaged in a “good healthy discussion” with 21-year-old Andrew Meyer when he was Tasered and taken into custody.

“In 37 years of public appearances, through wars, protests and highly emotional events, I have never had a dialogue end this way,” Kerry said in a statement. “I believe I could have handled the situation without interruption, but I do not know what warnings or other exchanges transpired between the young man and the police prior to his barging to the front of the line and their intervention. I asked the police to allow me to answer the question and was in the process of responding when he was taken into custody.”

“I was not aware that a taser was used until after I left the building,” he continued. “I hope that neither the student nor any of the police were injured. I regret enormously that a good healthy discussion was interrupted.”

And the question does arise: if Kerry truly was not upset — and if his handlers didn’t give a signal to police to take the guy away — then why did the police not let Kerry finish engaging him? MORE:

For politicians, hecklers come with the territory. But the arrest and detention of Meyer at Kerry speech on Monday stood out in at least two respects: Police acted aggressively in trying to silence Meyer, and the entire incident was captured on video — making it an immediate Internet and TV sensation.

Which underscores the ugliness: images (provoked or set up or otherwise) of police swarming on a young voter to shut him up and then tasering him when they clearly have him outnumbered are not exactly the kinds of images the United States should be exporting to countries that it hopes will follow the American role of democracy.

And — whether this incident as the news media does follow-up stories will prove to be a provocation or not — the capability to get something captured on YouTube and broadcast across the Internet does mean there could be in the future some potential for abuse.

After all, in an age when MTV’s Jackass shows non-political jackasses staging physical punishment to get viewership, we may be in an age where sometime in the future some political right and left jackasses could try to do the same. What’s a little pain and controversy when it makes a political point for “the team”?

This does not seem to be the case here…but the potential is there.

And the other issue that comes up is:

This is NOT the first time police have been YouTubed tasering students. Wouldn’t you think they would have learned by now? Or do some of these police think a computer is a 1988 black and white Mac and that YouTube refers to a new brand of toothpaste or is someone talking about “50 Cent” using equally bad grammar?

Writes Salon’s Farhad Manjoo:

By now you’ve likely seen the above video of University of Florida cops subduing 21-year-old Andrew Meyer with a Taser after the student asked Sen. John Kerry a few niggling questions (War Room has Kerry’s response). Astute followers of YouTube know this wasn’t the first time campus cops have been captured getting Taser-happy. Below, I’ve compiled previous clips of such incidents.

Don’t university cops have YouTube, too? These people work in the most visible environments in the world, where every witness has both a cellphone cam and a broadband connection and knows how to use them. You’d suppose that after just one of these well-publicized incidents, every campus P.D. in the nation would decide that whatever advantage there might be in using the Taser, the inevitable fallout is too much.

I called up the University of Florida Police Department to ask about its Taser policies; I’m waiting for a callback.

In the aftermath of the Taser incident at UCLA last fall — when a student named Mostafa Tabatabainejad was stunned multiple times after he refused to show his I.D. card at a campus library — the university asked the independent Police Assessment Resource Center to investigate.

PARC concluded: “While the student should have simply obeyed the order to produce the card, and by not doing so brought trouble upon himself, the police response was substantially out of proportion to the provocation. There were many ways in which the UCLAPD officers involved could have handled this incident competently, professionally, and with minimal force.”

Read his entire post — which contains…of course…YouTubes of itchy fingered 30-ish, 40-ish authorities tasering young college students.

There is TONS of reaction on weblogs (a lot of it written from political positions since nearly everything these days MUST have a partisan or liberal/conservative spin on it). There are too many to quote here — so if you want to read them GO HERE.

UPDATE:
The police report accuses Meyer of grandstanding for the cameras:

Police have released the incident report detailing the Tasering of a University of Florida student during a campus forum with Sen. John Kerry Monday, and the officer who actually Tasered Andrew Meyer wrote in the report that Meyer later told police, “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

In the 12-page report, which gives accounts of the incident from the perspective of eight different officers who were present Monday afternoon, Officer Nicole Mallo writes that Meyer would only resist officers when cameras were present.

“As (Meyer) was escorted down stairs (at the University Auditorium) with no cameras in sight, he remained quiet, but once the cameras made their way down stairs he started screaming and yelling again,” Mallo wrote.

Mallo was one of two officers who actually rode in the vehicle as Meyer was escorted to the Alachua County jail, and she said said he told them during the ride: “I am not mad at you guys, you didn’t do anything wrong, you were just trying to do your job,” according to Mallo’s account.

Mallo also wrote in her report that he asked, at one point, if cameras would be present at the jail.

If he was trying to get a certain response on camera, then it would again indicate that they played right into his hands.

–And Attytood did some research into Meyer and found these interesting tidbits….

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