(IPS) Tasering of Student Heard around the World
This article was originally published by the Inter-Press Service.
GAINESVILLE, Florida, Sep 24 (IPS) – Campus police at the University of Florida tackled, then Tasered — or shocked with high-voltage electricity — a journalism student last week, renewing a vigorous debate in the United States and abroad on police abuses of power and the struggle to preserve free speech.
Since several amateur videos of Andrew Meyer being violently arrested at a question-and-answer session started circulating on the website YouTube! six days ago, they have been viewed more than 2 million times. Advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International strongly condemned the police’s actions.
The incident starts with Meyer brandishing a copy of investigative journalist Greg Palast’s book, “Armed Madhouse”, and asking speaker Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, how he could have conceded the election despite reports of disenfranchisement of African American voters and electronic voting machines counting backwards.
Only seconds into his question, Meyer appears to be responding to someone asking him to stop speaking. “I’ll ask my question, thank you,” he says.
“If you’re so against [invading] Iran, how come you’re not saying, let’s impeach [George W.] Bush now?… Clinton was impeached for what, a blow job, why don’t we impeach Bush?” Meyer asks. “Also… were you a member of Skull and Bones, in college with Bush? Were you in the same secret society as Bush?” Meyer says, as his microphone is shut off.
As Meyer turns around, he is grabbed by two police, who say “Stop!” and appear to try to pull him out of the building. He asks, “Are you going to arrest me?”
“I’m not going anywhere. Get off of me. Get off of me,” Meyer says, pulling away from the police. “Let me go. What’s going on? I want to stay and listen to the answers to my questions.”
By this time, four police are pulling at Meyer. He shouts “Help! Help! Are you kidding? They’re arresting me!” as one heavy-set officer essentially bull-charges Meyer towards the exit door.
Six police then force him to the ground facedown with his hands behind his back. He shouts, “Get off of me!” Then, “Don’t Taser me, bro! Don’t Taser me!”
Then Meyer starts screaming, “Ah! Ah!”
The majority of the students at the lecture appear to merely sit in their seats and watch what is going on. Only one female student is heard screaming, “Stop! Stop! Why are you doing this? Oh my God!”
Hundreds of students, however, protested on campus in the days that followed.
“No matter what the situation leading up to the arrest, the conduct of the officers during the arrest, including the Tasering and the excessive use of force in general, was inappropriate,” Loren Jones, 20, an anthropology student at the University of Florida, told IPS.
An informal coalition of student groups, including Students for a Democratic Society, Students Against War and the Progressive Caucus, have been involved, along with many others who heard about the incident on the Internet, Jones said.
“I believe public discourse was in process and it was a peaceful process. Kerry had agreed to answer his question, and yes the content of his questions may have been slightly beyond what people are used to hearing, but it was not egregiously out of line,” Jones said.
“He was in no way acting threatening or doing anything that warranted his being forcibly removed from the building or being Tasered,” Jones said.
Jones added that students frequently go over the one-minute time limit at other events sponsored by Accents, the University’s speakers’ bureau, without being tackled and electrocuted.
At the Tuesday protest, police handed protest leaders five pamphlets about how to file a complaint with the police, Jones said. Students filed about 90 complaints the following day, she said.
An email sent to Andrew Meyer from IPS was not returned, although Meyer’s attorney told other media outlets that the student was currently recovering from the incident. To Jones’s knowledge, Meyer has not participated in the protests and has been largely missing in action.
Meanwhile, Sen. Kerry has refrained from condemning the actions of the police, and a spokesperson from his office told IPS there were no plans to do so.
Oddly, Kerry continued to stand on stage and attempt to answer Meyer’s question, even as the student was being dragged screaming down the aisle out of the building.
“In 37 years of public appearances, through wars, protests, and highly emotional events, I have never had a dialogue end this way. I believe I could have handled the situation without interruption, but again 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,” Kerry said in a statement.
“I asked the police to allow m! e to ans wer the question and was in the process of answering him when he was taken into custody. I was not aware a Taser was used until after I left the building. I hope neither the student nor any of the police were injured. I regret enormously that a good healthy discussion was interrupted,” he said.
When asked why Kerry did not specifically ask the police to stop, Kerry’s spokesperson replied, “We are hoping to hear more information about the incident. There is a report, for example, that a police officer was injured, and the incident is under investigation. We’d like to be able to make a fuller statement when more information is available.”
Asked what basis there was for Kerry’s claim that a police officer may have been injured, Kerry’s office clarified they have no evidence of this. Kerry’s office first asked for their clarification to be off-the-record, then backtracked when it was pointed out they had already made the unsubstantiated claim by email. Kerry’s office then hung up the phone on this reporter.
“A student gets the Taser for asking a simple question. But what’s more frightening is the reaction of those in the audience who sat through the screams of the student being Tasered, listening to Kerry who obviously became a man bereft of his senses,” Cynthia McKinney, an outspoken former Democratic representative from Georgia, said in a statement sent to IPS.
“No police officer should be in the business of denying Constitutional rights to anyone… What is happening to us? How much more will the people accept?” said McKinney, who herself was assaulted by a Capital Hill police officer last year.
Meyer’s attorney, Robert Griscti, told reporters Tuesday that he would be fighting to have the charges against Meyer dropped. Police charged Meyer with a third-degree felony for resisting an officer with violence and a second-degree misdemeanor for disturbing the peace, according to the police report.
The maximum penalty for the felony is five years in prison and a 5,000-dollar fine. The misdemeanor could mean 60 days in prison and a 500-dollar fine, according to the Independent Florida Alligator student newspaper.
The University of Florida has said there will also be an internal investigation of the campus police actions and use-of-force policies.
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Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor of The Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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