A few years ago, my father and I were driving on a popular Florida highway. It was about 7 a.m., and there was a cool Sunday breeze.
When my father and I got to a stoplight, I could see someone on the side of the road pinned to a police car getting arrested.
The stereotypical Cops-episode look, if you will: a scruffy, dirty-looking young white male. Suddenly, as the light was turning green, he escaped the cop’s pin and darted across the highway. They followed, and he was soon Tasered to the ground so they could handcuff him properly.
That was the proper use of a Taser. The suspect was out of the officers’ reach and it was the only way of stopping – and protecting – the suspect and the officers.
The appropriateness of a Taser used against University of Florida student Andrew Meyer, however, is questionable.
At a lecture given by John Kerry on Monday, Meyer approached the microphone for a question that became an argument. Although he did technically ask one question, it was a loaded one for the purpose of making a point, not finding out information.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, “speech organizers said time was up, and Meyer’s microphone was turned off. Two police officers struggled with him to the back of the auditorium, where other officers joined and forced him to the ground, Tasered and handcuffed him.”
According to my interpretation of the videos on YouTube, Meyer seemed to be down and controlled by police officers before he was Tasered. Meyer was unnecessarily Tasered, and now there is a state investigation into it. The police officers involved in the situation have been put on paid leave until further notice.
The heart of the matter doesn’t deal with the physical atrocity Meyer went through, but two other issues.
Where does free speech end and restricted speech begin? Where is the line between protecting society from the individual and violating the rights of said individual?
Speech that incites includes fighting words or words that wrongly cause panic. For example, legally, you cannot scream “fire” in a crowded theater if there is no fire. Meyer’s speech was not insidious; he was not calling for a rebellion against John Kerry or causing other UF students to riot from their seats.
Meyer did struggle against the police, though, when they were physically trying to take him away. At first, this struggle could be interpreted as a danger to society. I think his initial struggle could have warranted Tasering, but he was actually Tasered after he was pinned to the ground by six officers. I don’t think one 21-year-old guy could have escaped the grips of six grown men.
Granted, a female officer did warn that if he did not stop shouting for help, he would be Tasered. He continued to shout, and was Tasered, but should Tasers be used to keep people quiet?
Tasering someone to shut them up is not only inhumane – it doesn’t work. Meyer continued to shout until he was removed from the auditorium. The officers wanted to stop Meyer before he became too much of a problem. Unfortunately, they took it
There is a line between being a rambunctious individual and a danger to those around you. Meyer, for the most part, was just rambunctious. He did cross into the danger zone, but quickly retreated into rowdiness – before he was Tasered. The police waited to Taser him, and by the time they did, it was unjustified because he no longer behaved in a threatening manner.
The Taser incident, nevertheless, speaks volumes about the right to speak freely in America today.
Free speech apparently ends when it becomes uncontrollable – at least that’s what I gather from the whole ordeal. Meyer continued to shout his opinions and question the officers’ actions after they left the auditorium, possibly blurring the line between individual rights and the rights of those around him.
It can be claimed that Meyer was being disrespectful to Kerry and dangerous to students around him. However, he never physically confronted Kerry or any other students.
He stood at the microphone until he was pulled away. Nobody needed to be protected from Meyer, and in the process of unnecessary protection, his right to free speech and protection from bodily harm was
Sadly, the incident at UF on Monday shows that college is not the safe haven for free speech it is portrayed to be. Once speech becomes “uncontrollable” – whatever that means – it will be stopped.
And, apparently, at whatever cost.
Amy Mariani is a sophomore majoring in mass communications.