The writ of habeas corpus is "the fundamental instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary and lawless state action." Harris v. Nelson, 394 U.S. 286, 290-91 (1969)
"The truth is that casting aside the time-honored protection of habeas corpus makes us more vulnerable as a nation because it leads us away from our core American values. It calls into question our historic roll as a defender of human rights around the world." Senator Patrick Leahy, September 19, 2007
This one's gonna sting, but here goes.
I'm not all that upset by the tasering of U of Florida student Andrew Meyer.
I'm much more freaked out that 43 Republican senators voted against restoring habeas corpus to detainees in George Bush's so called war.
The failure of nearly half of those in the US Senate to support the rights they're asking our troops to die for, is on a scale way beyond the damage a few campus cops could ever inflict on us.
It's hardly news that cops can screw up. Sometimes it's adrenaline or lousy training or an honest mistake that makes a routine arrest go seriously wrong. Sometimes it's racism or an inner bully that takes over. Talk to friends who've been pulled over for a DWI, (Driving While Indian) or Rodney "Can't-we-all-just-get-along?" King. Or the handcuffed Latino kid, beaten by the LAPD last fall, and thousands of other people of color who have been beaten, tasered and worse.
Dark skinned people are much more used to this treatment than white folks, but most of them don't have to stand up and disrupt an event before they get thumped with the billyclub. And most of them don't plan in advance to film their own arrest, and free speech isn't usually the first thing they holler about when they're being hauled off for, say, jogging after dark or a curfew violation. And you won’t read about most of them on the web, or hear about them on late-night TV shows.
But Andrew Meyer is making the front page of every blog and lefty news service as the poster child for George Bush's fascist America. Okay, he didn't deserve to be tasered. He was guilty of being obnoxious but the cops didn't appear to be in any danger and they should have removed him without resorting to the taser. It was a sickening bit of tape to watch. But I'm not sure that this is the constitutional crisis that some are making it out to be.
Take author Naomi Wolf, for instance, writing in the Huffington Post.
"Today’s news shows a recognizable shock moment in the annals of a closing society. A very ordinary-looking American student — Andrew Meyer, 21, at the University of Florida - was tasered by police when he asked a question of Senator John Kerry about the impeachment of President George Bush. His arms were pinned and as he tried to keep speaking he was shocked — in spite of begging not to be hurt. A stunning piece of footage but unfortunately, historically, a very familiar and even tactical moment."
Um, Naomi? Did we watch the same tape?
First, Andrew was late getting to the mic to ask his question, and the forum was ending. It was Kerry who told the moderator to let him ask his question. But instead of asking a question he rambled on about the election being stolen, chastising Kerry for not challenging the results in Ohio and for being in Skull and Bones with Bush at Yale.
John Kerry is so not my favorite guy, but he did try to let Andrew have his moment. (And apparently his fifteen minutes.) After the moderator cut off the mic, Andrew kept shouting, waving his arms, and pretty much making a scene.
Granted, we all should be making a scene about the besotted captain of our listing ship, and his reckless crew, skittering off the ship to write their self-serving apologias. "That wasn't really the route I charted . . ."
But Andrew needs to take a look at old footage of civil rights protesters. What gave them their power was their silent dignity as they were carried off.
Second, Naomi makes it sound like he was standing at the mic, asking why Bush hadn't been impeached, when zap, the taser gun was on him. Puhleez.
He was refusing to shut up after the mic was turned off, waving his arms and yelling about free speech. Okay, that's his choice. But, when you choose to do that sort of protesting, you're going to be asked to leave. If you don't leave, you're going to be hauled out. If you resist, more cops will do the hauling, and that's what they did. Up to a point.
Well, unless you're on planet Ur, you've all seen it. When they got him to the back of the hall he wound up on the ground, shouting, (as someone wrote, like Brer Rabbit) "Don't taser me bro!" It's unpleasant as hell to watch, and the cops seem very calm and that adds to the creepiness of it. As do the faces of the students sitting in the hall, some staring straight ahead, others taping it on their cell phones, some looking bored stiff. But what would you have done if If you were there? Called the cops? Thrown yourself between the taser gun and Andrew? Some people can be heard screaming at them to stop, probably the category I'd be in, but obviously that wasn't too effective.
Some bloggers have written that Kerry should have stopped them instead of droning on, even though he was saying things like, "Let him finish" and "I'll answer that." But Kerry was at the front of the hall, Andrew Meyer was at the back of the hall in the middle of a scrum. I'm not sure what Kerry could see or hear, or what security issues very public figures and candidates have to consider. Again, Kerry is as appealing to me as soggy bran, and not known for clear decisive action, but I don't fault him for not throwing himself into this one.
Finally, Wolf writes:
" It [tasering of Meyer] is an iconic turning point and it will be remembered as the moment at which America either fought back or yielded. This violence against a student is different from violence against protesters in the anti-war movement of 30 years ago because of the power the president has now to imprison innocent U.S. citizens for months in isolation. . . . That taser was directed at the body of a young man, but it is we ourselves, and our Constitution, who received the full force of the shock."
I’m sorry, but this is the sort of over-the-top writing that people accuse me of doing. Andrew Meyer did not deserve to be tasered. It's gruesome video to watch, and there should be a full review of the officers' behavior and appropriate consequences.
But I have a hard time buying the notion that the taser used on Andrew Meyer delivered a jolt to the US Constitution. No, that jolt was delivered directly by 43 elected Republican senators.