The use of a taser gun and subsequent arrest of a Florida college student this week (YouTube video), raised more than a few eyebrows among free speech advocates. Many of our supporters have asked, "is this a free speech issue, a case of police brutality, or a disruptive student getting more attention than he deserves?” They’re all fair questions.
In fact, from a distance it’s a little hard to determine whether Andrew Meyer’s speech was disrupted because he himself was disruptive, or because he was asking politically-charged questions that campus police deemed inappropriate. There is little doubt, however, that the police response was heavy-handed. Indeed, why were the police involved at all in a situation that the moderator or John Kerry, the invited speaker, might well have handled simply by asking the student to take his turn, or to pose his question without rambling on?
The event causes particular alarm because of the backdrop of censorship involving political speech and speech on campus. Just last week, peace-activist Reverend Lennox Yearwood was tackled, injured and arrested by police when he attempted to attend the Congressional testimony of General Petraeus. The Washington Post recently reported that the White House created a Presidential Advance Manual advising staff how to deter political protestors, and it is well known that people wearing protest t-shirts or buttons, or driving cars with anti-Bush or anti-war bumper stickers, were excluded, ejected or sometimes arrested at public events at which the President spoke. Nor are college and university campuses immune from the similar problem. Whether the precipitating event is a photo exhibit of Palestinian children, a speech on immigration, or the presence on campus of a former federal official, the recent past displays a decided absence of tolerance for controversial or unpopular views.
These events speak to a need to re-establish some of the central ground rules for a free democratic society, chief among which is respect for political dissent and academic freedom. Especially in the halls of Congress, and in colleges and universities, free speech and debate should receive extra deference. Sadly, precisely the opposite seems to be the case.
- September 13, 2007 – Amy Goodman’s Interview with Reverend Lennox Yeargood (Democracy Now.com)An enlightening interview with Reverend Yeargood as he reflects on his ordeal.
- August 22, 2007 -White House Manual Details How to Deal With Protesters (Washington Post)
- ACLU Files Suit for Illegal Sentencing of Anti-Bush Demonstrators (ACLU)
- September 19, 2007 – Zach Marks: Tasering Students a Shocking Disgrade (Huffington Post
- September 21, 2007 – UF Incident Not a Free Speech Issue, opinion piece (The Reflector)