Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tasering of Student -- Justified?

Remember our discussion about the freedom of speech in regards to the student who spoke out at the Kerry lecture - and got tasered? After an extended investigation, the police force concluded that the use of a taser on a student at the University of Florida was justified. Before you jump to conclusions as to his rights to free speech, however, consider this - the police invesigation uncovered evidence of a confrontation between the student and supporters of Rudy Giuliani that nearly turned violent, as well as a statement from a goundskeeper that the student involved in the conflict told another student that if he liked what he'd seen (in regards to the conflict with the Giuliani supporters) that he should attend the Kerry rally the following week. In light of this information, Meyer's verbal confrontation with Kerry seems entirely premeditated and more like political shenanigans than a student whose free speech has been imposed upon. In hindsight, was it right to use force to contain a situation that could have quickly gotten out of hand (especially when the perpetrator was known to incite arguments and confrontations amongst other political figures and their supporters)?


terissa said...

I think one of the issues that I feel needs to be addressed here is not necessary whether the student had a history of "disorderly conduct," but whether the amount of force utilized by the police forces present was necessary to detain the student. If they had been briefed to a certain extent as to what to expect from this particular student, couldn't the police present have come up with something better than "well, if it gets out of hand, let's just taser him." I mean, how are arguments equal to physical force? If nothing else, the tactics employed by the officers on-site were excessive. Having attended many a lecture and organized discussions in my time, I understand the need to maintain order. But at what point do we decide that speaking out of turn necessitates the use of excessive, brutal force?

As well, I remember watching the video of the student's attempts at speaking to Kerry. From what we saw in class, Kerry was willing to let the student speak - it seemed to me that he was acting in an orderly fashion and was treating Kerry respectfully (He thanked him for coming). It wasn't until he was asked to step down by other persons that he became aroused, and there was a very short period of time between him being accosted, him acquiescing, and then him being tasered. The time span of these events is also bothersome - one would think that once you are removed from the situation and are no longer a threat you would have the right not to be tasered. (I also have questions as to what he actually posed a threat to, since they were at the conclusion of the lecture and he would have been the last person to speak, anyway, regardless of whether Kerry wanted to hear what he had to say or not.)

To me, the student seemed pretty compliant when he was escorted away from the podium. There was no imminent danger to the guest speaker or, from what I saw, to any of the officers involved. The force used was excessive and unwarranted, in my opinion.

jazzolog said...

We knew the information about the student's "history" at the time of the police violence. It was the first thing the school paraded out in its defense. So what if he wants to rouse the rabble? Isn't a sleeping rabble a lot of the problem in the US? Kerry thought the questions were appropriate and called off the police, but they had higher masters and obeyed them. What we have is a school administration labelling somebody something and calling in armed guards to enforce their opinion. Sounds like something we Yanks are doing all over the world! Does an Iraqi look like a "terrorist"? Shoot first. Come on Jen, are we really concerned with human rights here?

Tom Bombadil said...


The use of a taser on a student at the University of Florida is reminiscent of an other famous such incident:
On November 14, 2006, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, an Iranian-American UCLA student, was stunned multiple times with a Taser by campus police, for allegedly refusing to be escorted out of the College Library Instructional Computing Commons (CLICC Lab) at Powell Library. This was after refusing to provide his BruinCard (student ID) to a Community Service Officer during a routine check.

In the Andrew Meyer's case, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement defended the decision to use a stun gun thusly:
"Officers decide not to escalate to hard empty hand strikes, kicks, knees or baton ... (it) would have looked like the officers were beating Meyer into submission."


It begs the question: Has the training of Police forces become so inadequate nowadays that officers have now become unable to "escort" someone off a property without the use of batons, or stun-batons (the cattle prod modern equivalent of a baton), or the use of stun-guns?

The point here is that the use of tasers by police forces was originally intended as a SUBSTITUTE TO DEADLY FORCE. That is: tasers were intended to be used as an alternative to firearms in those situations in which police forces had "probable cause" to believe that the person they were trying to apprehend posed a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or other people around.

Did Andrew Meyer pose a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or other people around him?

What is happening here, is that rather than becoming a de-escalation in the use of deadly force (incapacitating dart-like electrodes instead of deadly bullets), tasers have become instead an escalation in the use of force in those situations where other "softer" or gentler methods are called for.

Tasers, it is claimed, cause no damage (though this is not always so,) whereas batons cause bludgeoning or blunt-force trauma injuries, but when tasers are used routinely for crowd control (as opposed to a substitute to the use of "deadly violence" they were intended to be) , just like batons they become tools of repression and intimidation in their own right (another form of violence - with a sinister edge about it): "Do not speak out of turn, Mr. or Mrs. so and so, or we'll have to electroshock you." I don't know; is it just me or does Nurse Ratched (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) comes to mind, here: "If Mr. McMurphy doesn't want to take his medication orally, I'm sure we can arrange that he can have it some other way. But I don't think that he would like it." After all, weren't we told that the student had a history of "disorderly conduct"...?

The question Jen raises in this post is an interesting one, to be sure, and - as jazzolog well surmised it - carries troubling implications over what is becoming acceptable socially, in term of human behavior, or worldwide as a nation, that goes well beyond the confine of just an isolated incident in a University in Florida.

Jen, incidentally - and I don't know if there is any intended relation here - is an important Confucian value. The word is not easily translatable into English, it stands for "humaneness" or "humanity" or "benevolence," and is used in the sense of "the art of being human."

And talking of humaneness, don't Police forces in the USA receive training in Jujutsu?

Jujutsu literally meaning the "art or science of softness", is a Japanese martial art consisting primarily of grappling techniques. Jujutsu evolved among the samurai of feudal Japan as a method for dispatching an armed and armored opponent in situations where the use of weapons was impractical or forbidden. Due to the difficulty of dispatching an armored opponent with striking techniques, the most efficient methods for neutralizing an opponent took the form of joint locks or pins.

When it comes to "escorting" someone off a private or public ground, provided that such an eviction is warranted (and teressa's point that it is not so clear here whether or not this seemed to be the case in this instance is a good one), there are certainly other gentler, and more human means - when such means are an option - to do so than beating or electroshocking someone into submission.

It all comes to a matter of choice, or what one aims to achieve, individually, as a society, or as a nation: Is it about Preserving the Peace, now, or is it about... shock an awe?

ElizabethJane said...

Just because the student had a history of unacceptable behavior it does not at all in any way justify the use of a harmful object. If the student had been acting out in physically violent ways that were a threat to either Kerry or others there then it would be one thing, but as far as I'm concerned he was not posing any threats to anyone other than verbally attacking them.. which Kerry seemed to be completely fine with. I think the police force in this situation was completely wrong in using a taser against the student and something should be done to punish those officers who committed the crime.

jurisprudence said...

freedom of speech means freedom to shenanigans and he didn't incite a riot and violence didn't occur nor was violence imminent so they should not have tasered him. we don't taser people just b/c they have a history of saying things we don't like. we are supposed to question our politicn and even question them harshly. when did we become a counrty that just rolls over and follows the establishment and taser ( that is physically force) dissentors. First its ok to electric shock people then what torture, then what kill? Starting to look like an authoritarian gov to me.
Look around people, we have infinite detention w/o a right to appeal and torture (both human rights issues) and now we can add tasering. Congrats Americans you are all the best roles models that the world have every seen! NOT.

jurisprudence said...

BTW Tom that was really well put.

Kat said...

No, I don't think there was any reason to use a taser gun. If he HAD gotten violent, then yet. But the police got him on the ground so quickly that he would have no way of getting violent. I know they were trying to be protective, but that still crosses the line in my book.