Tasering Habeas Corpus

September 20, 2007 by susan
photo of taser gun

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.

Posted in


barbara aka babs (not verified) | September 20, 2007 - 10:22am

Frankly, what is horrifying about the whole Andrew Meyer thing is that Americans by and large, and between yawns, seem to be saying, "Ho hum, another tasering. Pass the butter. Pass the guns. Whatever."


Andrew Meyer was inappropriate. He was making a big, public stink. I have no idea what motivated him to do that, but I have no doubt we'll be treated to a blow-by-blow as this thing plays itself out, likely in court. It is the way of things now.

I would submit that passive resistance in 2007 will accomplish jack shit. By and large, that's what we as a nation have been doing for seven years. The opportunities to be seen, heard, read are few and far between, especially for the commoners. I worked diligently in the peacemaking community a few decades back. What has happened since then is beyond horrifying. Forget terrorists. The only thing we have to fear is our own run-amok government and the resultant wacked-out society.

What we have here is a once-great nation in precipitous decline. And yeah, the habeas vote underscores that in spades. But freeze-frame the Meyer deal and think about it.

Police making a mistake? I don't think so. Taser first, ask questions later. John Kerry culpable? I don't much like the man, but I would submit this wasn't his problem to manage. Sounds like he attempted to ameliorate the situation by allowing Meyer to be heard. Right, wrong, what? Watch him like a hawk, but let the man speak.

I wonder what this generation would be like if, early on, we'd tasered our kids into submission. As best I can recall, Dr. Spock was mum on the topic.

While I don't think the Meyer episode is a watershed deal for America, I do think it shines light on how seriously out of control things are, and how militant law enforcement is becoming. That makes me queasy. Very. Especially when I reflect on how well it meshes with BushCo's vision for my country.

A jolt to the Constitution? Hardly. But it damn well better be a jolt to our collective consciousness. Because we've got trouble right here in river city and beyond.

Gotta go. Off to get me one of them tasers.


susan | September 20, 2007 - 1:12pm

Well, I agree it's revolting, but I cling to my point that it's been a police state for a lot of folks for a long time, and none of us on the other side of that divide got nearly so riled up about it as we did about this. Perhaps because Andrew Meyer is one of ours? Or, maybe more fairly, because, as Naomi Wolf writes, it's different when cops do this now, as opposed to when they thwacked and thwarted student protesters during the Vietnam war, and rode roughshod over protesters during the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, because Bushco et al are in charge and have been shredding our civil liberties, pretty much unchecked, for the last six years.
At least back then there was an uproar against Mayor Daley and his out of control cops, and the system seemed to function well enough to purge itself of criminal and antisemitic detritus like Richard M. Nixon. Who'd a thunk we be longing for those good old days?
Still, it seems to me the issue here is not so much one of free speech -- he was allowed to speak and ramble on, even though his time was up (and any one who's spent a long weekend at a DFL convention or two knows why we need time limits)-- but of bad cop reaction. And, I continue to argue that this is nothing new, especially to people of color, which doesn't excuse it. And speaking of color, does anyone else find it slightly off-putting that Meyer was addressing the African American officer as "Bro"?

I'm with you Babs, we got big trouble right here in River City, for all the reasons we carp on all the time, and I don't mean to be ho-hum about cops blithely tasering people. I'm not, honest. (Although when you look at how the Iraqi cops, trained by ours truly, are treating people in that newest bastion of democracy, we sound like a bunch of wusses for whining about tasering. Let's see, the bullet through the back of the head or the front of the head? No bro, please, just taser me.)
See how far I've fallen? Sick. You may now rest your case.

Meanwhile, if you want to talk about real issues of freedom of speech, how're you all doing with the attacks on MoveOn for their Betray Us ad? Bush calls it "disgusting" --- but golly, those swift boat ads sliming Kerry were just tellin' the simple truth. And the two Johns, Cornyn and Boehner, have authored resolutions calling for the Senate and House to condemn the ad.
Call me soft on tasers, but I find this sort of repression truly terrifying and far more indicative of a police state than the rough jolt delivered to Mr. Meyer. And I remind us all that without the Democratic victories in 2006, these resolutions would be flying ahead, not tabled by committee chairs, as, thankfully, they have been. Small threads to cling to, I know, but they're the only ones we have.