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Florida Student Andrew Meyer is Tasered at John Kerry Campus Forum

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you can hardly win. And this fact seems to ring more true each day as our society is increasingly subject to violent acts at home, school and in the workplace.

Such seems to be the case of Andrew Meyer, the University of Florida student who was Tasered and arrested after trying to ask U.S. Senator John Kerry about the 2004 election and other subjects during a campus forum yesterday.

This is a case where the behavior of everyone involved in the situation added enormous fuel to a simple and seemingly harmless spark and the result was a destructive explosion. Context (often ignored when you see a random video) is important.

From U of Florida student Tyler Antar who was at the Kerry forum to register students to vote:

“Eventually it was announced that there would only be a few more questions answered. Since Meyer and I were both in the back of each line, it did not seem likely that our questions would be answered. However, while Senator Kerry was responding to a student’s question, all of a sudden Meyer rushed to the microphone with cops in pursuit. At that point no one knew what was going on. Could he have a gun, a bomb? Immediately, Meyer began yelling into the microphone that he had been waiting in line forever and that Senator Kerry should ‘spend time to answer everyone’s questions!’ Senator Kerry tried to calm the student down by telling him that he would ‘stay here as long as it takes to get the questions answered.’

From The Gainsville Sun:

Toward the conclusion of Kerry’s UF forum, Meyer approached an open microphone at the University Auditorium and demanded Kerry answer his questions.  The student claimed that University Police Department officers had already threatened to arrest him, and then proceeded to question Kerry about why he didn’t contest the 2004 presidential election and why there had been no moves to impeach President Bush.

If you haven’t seen the video, it warrants your attention. There is more than one video and the perspective of each is different. The first shows Meyer’s exuberance and disruptiveness and his hysteric pleas for help. The second video picks up when the police remove him from the mic and also shows him being escorted out of the room post the Taser.

Several factors led to the escalation of this occurrence from a simple campus political forum to police brutality and violation of civil rights. I worry that at the core of this incendiary situation is our acute awareness of and concern about safety that has been sharpened since events such as 9-11, Columbine and Virginia Tech froze us. The answers are not simple or easy.

The memories of these tragedies are not easily forgotten and their lasting impression often spills into situations that at first glance may appear to have such violent potential. As a police officer or campus official, how do you anticipate what turns deadly? The Virginia Tech Review Panel, a state-appointed body assigned to review of the Virginia Tech incident, criticized Virginia Tech administrators for failing to take action that may have reduced the number of casualties.

So what was wrong with this picture?

Andrew Meyer – accounts from people that were at the rally indicate he was disruptive, taunted the University of Florida police officers and in an outburst expressed his annoyance that the forum ended before he could ask his question. Cause for arrest and taser? No. He was granted the opportunity to ask his question by Senator Kerry but asked several questions and went beyond his allotted time. Cause for arrest and taser? No. He was not uncooperative initially but was demanding of police to know why he was being removed. At the back of the room he briefly escaped the hold of two of the officers and attempted to break away from the remaining officer. Cause for arrest and taser? No, but at this point, his attempted escape and continual yelling at police took the encounter to another level. How would this situation been different if he would have walked out with the police? Arrest and Taser? No. Was his main concern asking questions of Kerry or bringing attention to himself and his casue?

U of Florida Campus Police – Most law enforcement have strict policies for use of force and weapons. In the case of a Taser, U of Florida police chief  Holcomb said

“there would be an investigation into whether the officers used force appropriately, adding that employing a Taser gun would only be justified in a case where there was a threat of physical harm to officers."

I saw no threat of physical harm to officers but I saw an uncooperative and aggressive student. On the other hand, I did see the woman officer repeatedly, respectfully and calmly ask Meyer to cooperate and calm down. A Taser was not necessary and other means to remove Meyer should have been attempted. There were four attending officers.

John Kerry – Kerry seemed to be accommodating to the concerns and requests of Meyer yet ignored the situation and continued to address the crowd while Meyer was on the ground screaming at the back of the auditorium. He and campus officials were in a position to settle the ruckus peacefully. They could have made the call. Perhaps they have been trained to leave such disturbances to the police but it is a strange feeling to hear the screams on one hand and the political droning of Kerry on the other.

Audience – Some have criticized the audience for apathetically watching the police Taser Meyer. That is another difficult situation. What if 10 large students came to the rescue of Meyer and pulled police off him? Would that have improved the situation? Would more deadly weapons have been drawn – according to policy – if the police felt threatened? How many would have been hurt if that had occurred? The audience had the least power to affect a change in the situation. However, you can see quite a few students laughing as Meyer was dragged out, as if it was somehow an entertaining reality TV show.

Anyone given the responsibility to assure safety at an event is burdened with a complex task with little upside. Jeffrey Feldman of the Huffington Post, offers several questions that require attention and analysis

“How can campus police be prepared to distinguish between an angry protester and an angry threat to a room? What is the best way to quiet a protest on campus?  How should police respond to civil disobedience on campus without causing physical harm or worse to students?

Unfortunately, these important topics have yet to be discussed in any real way since the tragedy at Virginia Tech this past April.  The horrific event of that morning have undoubtedly left campus police in a heightened state of alert--not to mention the students.  In the shadow of that day, it is likely much more difficult on a college campus to make the difficult distinction between threatening actions and angry, but safe expression--and yet, the ability to quickly make this distinction is crucial to maintaining a healthy university community.”

Feldman’s solution, bring students, campus leaders and campus police together. “More talk, less Taser.” It is hard to disagree.

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5 Comments/Trackbacks

These police officers did nothing wrong. Andrew Meyer escalated the incident himself. He should have complied with the police request and it would have been over. He is heard in the video yelling don't taser me but yet he still wouldn't comply with the police orders. Why should an officer get hurt because someone can't follow orders and resisted arrest. Try walking in a police officers shoes and you'll soon begin to see why these things happen.

» Andrew Meyer Taser Video Taints John Kerry from Know More Media
It has to be tough to be a public figure these days with all the social media sources. Take John Kerry for example. Kerry has been all over the news in the past two days based on collateral damage... [Read More]

The police were placed on suspension because their actions were clearly unjustified and crossed the boundary of acceptable force.

Freedom of speech doesn't only apply when we ask a tough question of a politician quietly and then quickly lie flat in a submissive position on the ground otherwise deadly force will be used against us.

It seems that their university has the same perspective on free speech we'd expect in sierra leone where if you loudly ask a politician a critical question in a public forum you can expect uniforms to beat you down hard publically, their society accepts that "that's normal"

Those police cheerleaders saying tasers are ok should wonder how much like sierra leone we've become, where the police can kill you in the streets with impunity for anything really, a disrespectful attitude for instance...

I saw the entire thing from beginning to end and while the student was being a jerk, he spoke only 30 seconds before the police began to drag him out, and Kerry wanted to answer his questions and even offered to stay as long as it takes.

There was no evidence of this student perpetrating any crime. Heck--he was 4-1/2 minutes short of not finishing asking a question compared to many of those questioning Gen. Petraeus this past week.

Being a jerk is no reason to be arrested and tasered.

I would think it will be difficult to find where the student went wrong because much sounds like heresay. Other students claim he was disruptive, one newspaper reports he approached the open mic while another says he cut from he back of the line with police in pursuit. Although he may have been trying to benefit his own cause, nothing in his speech was illegal and it didn't incite anyone to violence or rioting so I'd like to know what he was being arrested and tasered for? Cutting in line? I'm not saying what he did was right or wrong, but turning it into the scene it is seems like a little thing gone completely wrong. He is getting plenty of attention so maybe it was all worth it.

You can find insightful leadership training in this leadership training blog.

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