Phi Beta Cons

Step by Step Analysis of the Tasering Incident

Wow. I haven’t seen the blogosphere this ablaze about a campus issue since I first heard the words “Duke lacrosse.” On the Corner, Jonah has weighed in, Michelle Malkin is all over the story, and Dean Barnett has commented at FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff has posted an initial reaction at the Huffington Post followed by some additional thoughts on FIRE’s blog . And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

So, after all the blogger comments, watching the various video angles (just search “Florida student taser” on youtube and you’ll see multiple camera angles), and reading various MSM accounts, I honestly don’t know if the tasering was justified. I think the police had grounds to escort him out of the venue and even to grow more aggressive as he pulled away, but tasering? I’m not so sure.
Let’s take this step by step. According to the roundup of accounts on Michelle’s site, the event went down like this:

1. Near the end of the Q&A session, the student – perhaps afraid that he wasn’t going to have a chance to ask his “question” – apparently rushed towards the microphone. This action, of course, would set any security officer on edge and may have set the stage for all that followed. Police officers guarding public officials watch crowds closely for a reason, and obviously angry individuals who rush mics are cause for concern.

2. The student – obviously agitated – went over his allotted time and even (from one camera angle) seems to brush aside a police officer who approached him to ask him to stop.

3. The student continues speaking after his mic is turned off. It may very well be the case that the mic was turned off too quickly here. A one minute time limit is quite short, and I would bet real money that other – more civil – questioners were given more time. But it is clear by this point that the officers and organizers seem to believe they have a situation on their hands.

4. The officers approach him rather abruptly. At this point – regardless of whether the officers did the right thing — the student has one, very clear responsibility: to comply with the officer’s demands. We don’t have a right to physically resist an officer under those – or virtually any — circumstances. We just don’t. We have a right to challenge the officer’s actions after the fact, but no one has a right to resist the arrest in the first instance.

5. He not only resisted arrest, he actually broke away from the first officer’s grip. This is the point where a security official may have real concerns and where some level of increased force would become necessary.

6. Finally, after he is gang tackled by several officers, he continues to resist and is tasered. My question at this point is why several officers acting together weren’t able to handle the situation without use of the taser, which can be dangerous. At the same time, physical confrontations can be dangerous with or without a taser.

7. Throughout the whole affair, Senator Kerry acts profoundly unconcerned about and unaffected by the student’s actions. Perhaps the officers should have taken their cue from the Senator. If the speaker himself (whose rights were directly implicated by the student’s actions) was fine with the student’s rant and with giving him additional time to speak, then maybe the officers could have hovered a bit more in the background.
As someone who speaks on many campuses and has faced more than a few hostile questioners, I know that I would be concerned if the police moved in to stop someone from questioning me even after I had indicated that I wanted to answer the question. From the speaker’s vantage point, university officials have just put me in a “no-win” position. They’re protecting me from someone I don’t perceive as a threat and making me look heavy-handed, like I’m afraid to answer the “tough” questions. At the same time, I almost can’t help but look ineffectual when the police move decisively to stop a physical altercation. After all, I’m just standing there. The physical confrontation renders the speaker irrelevant. I think conservative commentators are being unfair as they point to this incident as further evidence of Kerry’s shortcomings. There are no good options for the speaker in such a circumstance.
At the end of the day, I’m not sure what – if anything – this incident can teach us about free speech on campus. No, I take that back. One thing is clear: If you’re going to be disruptive, you’ll fare a lot better in Manhattan than you will in Gainesville. Gators have sharp teeth.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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