Sep. 18th, 2007

lurkitty: (Pogo)
Protesters going to a march have some reasonable expectation of conflict with the police. This weekend's march on the Capitol included a "die-in" during which over 100 pre-selected participants tried to get arrested in the name of a dead American soldier. This is a well-known and often highly choreographed dance, with rules and playbooks on both sides dating back to the 'sixties, when the two fingered "V" for Victory salute was co-opted into the anti-war Peace symbol.

A truly disturbing trend has emerged, however, involving the individual arrest and brutal treatment of individual, unarmed citizens seeking merely to participate in the Democratic process. On Sept. 11th, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, a former Air Force officer, was waiting in line to attend the Petraeus hearings. By his own account, given to Democracy Now!:
But instead, when I got there, I was waiting in line. I was standing there. I had to do a radio interview. I asked the officer, I said, “Can I step out of line for a second to do an interview?” He said, “No problem.” I did my interview. I came back to the line. I got back in the line. I was waiting.

A policeman passing out post-it notes passed over both Rev. Yearwood and Col. Ann Wright, telling them that they could not get in. Col. Wright was subsequently given a post-it, but Rev. Yearwood, who was wearing a button that said "I love the Iraqi People" and was the only person-of-color in the line, was not given a pass.

And that’s when it started. I said, “Why are you singling me out? What is going on?” It’s important to know. We have this huge rally at the White House, and a march to the Capitol is coming Saturday. And I know my picture is on the flier. But regardless, I asked, “Why are you singling me out?”

At that point in time, they became to be aggressive, and they got around me. And I said that -- “You’re going to be arrested.” I said, “What am I going to be arrested for? What have I done? I just want to go inside and hear the hearing for myself.” At that point in time, one came behind me, said, “You’re going to be arrested.” And then somebody grabbed me on my shoulder. And I kind of turned. Amy, by the time I turned, I was on the ground. And I actually just felt myself going headfirst into the concrete.


A video of the scene starts at the point where Rev. Yearwood is saying "Why are you singling me out?" It shows that the police are speaking of arresting him long before he actually commits any crime. Rev. Yearwood was standing in line talking to the police. What would the charge have been had he not reflexively moved away from the policeman that grabbed him from behind? What exactly was he doing wrong? Wearing a button? Asking why he was being arrested? Being Black in public?

When Rev. Yearwood was tackled by the six to eight Capitol police officers, his leg was injured and initially thought to be broken.

On Monday night, Sen. John Kerry was speaking at a campus forum at the Univeristy of Florida. When a student stepped up to the mike for the last question of the evening, it was obvious from the start that he had an agenda. Andrew Meyer went on and rambled in asking his question before his mike was cut off. Campus police moved in and grabbed him, carrying him off and finally wrestling him to the ground and tasering him.

Watching the video, there were several points where the the situation could have been deescalated. Sen. Kerry was already trying to calm the student down and answer his question when the police grabbed him from behind. The student was already pinned to the ground by several officers before he was tasered.

The Machinist blog at Salon point out that, like the UCLA taser incident earlier this year, the taser was used in "drive stun mode". Quoting the blog:

In typical Taser operation, the gun shoots out electrode darts at a target. The darts incapacitate the target. Drive stun mode, on the other hand, is meant for close contact. There are no shooting electrodes -- the gun is placed directly on a target's skin. Drive stun does not incapacitate a target. He merely feels a great deal of pain that officers hope will induce compliance.

According to the Palm Beach Post, Taser International, the company that makes the device, warns officers that drive stun mode can lead to "prolonged struggles" with targets and that "it is in these types of scenarios that officers are often facing accusations of excessive force."


There you have it. The taser was not used to incapacitate the subject, but to inflict pain. Is this sort of treatment really warranted in the case of an unarmed student disrupting a forum that was nearly over?

Two officers have been placed on leave in the Florida case and the charges against Meyer are being reviewed. University President J. Bernard Machen made a statement yesterday voicing his regret that civil discourse did not occur.

It is tempting to blame police for this sort of problem. Police, however, act on orders and guidelines from their superiors. What is leading them to believe that individuals who question authority are as threatening as those who wield physical weapons? Why has the use of force been allowed to expand to the point that it is okay to subdue someone who is resisting only with words, not with actions?

In both these cases, the police escalated a verbal confrontation to a physical confrontation and the subject ended up in pain. This trend bears examination and intervention.

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