Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Freedom of speech or free publicity?

I’m all for peaceful student protests and the right to say your piece, but the incident involving 21-year-old Andrew Meyer of the University of Florida was shameful for all involved. In case you missed the tidal wave of publicity that followed his persistent and somewhat angry questioning of Senator John Kerry during the Senator’s appearance on campus that led to a confrontation with police. They tried to remove him from in front of a microphone when his time limit was up and he began to put up a struggle.

Police had to use a Taser on him during his pleas of “No bro don’t tase, me.” The officers in question are now under scrutiny while Meyer after his release from jail Tuesday morning decided not to talk with the press. That’s interesting given that he has his own website, which displays material that some would call stupid, others glory-seeking, and yet others would say makes some interesting points. He’s also known as a practical joker. He’s a communications major and knows how to get attention. He’s gotten that in spades.

Somewhat removed from my college days I do remember some hot button issues of the day we protested. I usually chose the written word, the student newspaper or through peaceful means. I believe a student should be able to express his or her opinion, especially if they have no ulterior motive. I’m not so sure Meyer didn’t have one.

As for the use of tasers or stun guns, I think it’s an option for police officers I’d rather see than someone being shot. Pepper spray doesn’t always work, but when an officer threatens the use of a stun gun the person causing the problem usually shows some hesitancy.

A Fond du Lac police officer had to use a taser on a man at the Fond du Lac County jail this week. The man caused a disturbance in front of a downtown bar after being kicked out for trying to pick fights. An officer gave him every chance advising him to just walk home, but he then decided to tease a police dog in the officer’s squad car by barking loudly at it. The officer advised him to stop because that’s a crime, but the man continued calling the dog profane names. Finally the officer said he was going to arrest the man and the man took off on foot. He was caught. Several times during his arrest he was told he would be tased when he wouldn’t get into a squad car. That didn’t happen, but later at the jail as the man was struggling with six officers, a taser was used not once but twice when he wouldn’t calm down.

I’m not sure how other departments handle it, but when a Fond du Lac police officer uses a taser the incident is reviewed to see if it was a necessary use of force. In this case it seemed it was. By the way because the man was struggling with six officers the officer had to look for a large muscle group to use the taser on. The only one open that fit that description for the first stun was the buttocks.

It’s unfortunate that civil disobedience and freedom of speech has evolved on campus in this particular instance into a national forum and political issue. Freedom of speech or free publicity, which was Andrew Meyer really seeking?