Drudge is trumpeting the story of the University of Florida student who was tasered at a John Kerry forum. Following the links to a vivid video of the incident, it’s honestly hard to know if the tasering was justified. I don’t know the university’s guidelines for use of force, and I can’t see what was happening in the scrum right before the student was tasered. I can, however, answer one question that the student kept shouting as he wrestled with police: “What did I do?”
There seems to be a persistent level of confusion amongst not just students but administrators on the free speech rights of audience members and questioners at an “open” forum. To be perfectly clear, no one has a right to shout down, interrupt, or otherwise disrupt the speech of an invited speaker. My rights to free speech do not allow me to interfere with the free speech rights of another person. Period. Further, a “disruption” can include an unwillingness to relinquish the microphone after the allotted time has expired. Obviously, if one person is using the microphone, others cannot.
If a person is disruptive, not only can that person be removed by security, sometimes their removal is actually required to protect the free speech rights of the speaker (and other questioners). Obviously, physical removal should not be the first resort when someone goes beyond their allotted time (and I can’t tell if that happened here). His microphone can be turned off, he can be asked to leave, an officer can order him to leave before he places his hands on the student – there are a variety of methods of responsible escalation, and I don’t know if those methods were used.
However, it is certainly the case that once the police start to remove a disruptive student, that student only makes things worse if he starts screaming and tries to break away – especially in the presence of a U.S. Senator and former Democratic nominee for President of the United States (where security concerns are very real).
It certainly may be the case that the Florida police moved too soon and went too far, but we shouldn’t necessarily categorize this incident as a violation of the student’s free speech rights. Ironically enough, he may very well have been violating Senator Kerry’s right to speak.