19 September, 2007

What is this? Castro's Cuba?

The more I see the unrestrained use of force by correctional officers and the further erosion of our constitutional right to speak, yes, speak, the more I think we don't know how much of our freedoms we are losing.

The worse part of it is that none of us realize the erosion of such freedoms.

Case in point: Andrew Meyer, a 21 year old student at the University of Florida recently tasered, removed and then arrested after being a bit too forceful asking questions of U.S senator John Kerry.

Of course, immediately the force-control went on to say that Mr. Meyer resisted the arrest, arguably justifying the use of force by the Gainesville police to remove him.

Pardon if I sound sarcastic, but who the hell does Mr. Kerry and even the Gainesville police department think they are?

Force? Anyone who saw the footage of the actual event, apparently being broadcast live in Mr. Meyer's own web-site without anyone's knowledge, can tell that Mr. Meyer was just forceful asking Mr. Kerry questions that, despite anyone's opinion of this matter, did not amount to anything that our constitutional guarantees to ask from our public officers hard, direct and, yes, obnoxious questions.

What type of society are we living in these days that doesn't even instill in the people who enforce the basic rules of law, such as not harassing or jump on a guy who was just being belligerent if anything, not a threat to Mr. Kerry or anyone in the audience, and who was practicing a legitimate form of protected speech? We are not even living in a society based on puritanical ethics, nor in a society that is splitting itself along ideological or religious lines on the basis of them against us, as it happened throughout much of the 1950's war on ideology against communism.

If anything, we are living in a society where diversity of opinions and respect for such should not be diluted by a politically correct speech, a mass-produced set of onerous ideas, or a set of preprinted templates for a bill of sale. Diversion from such is still justifiable, if not legitimate, guys. Agreeing to be obnoxious, especially as this involves the hard-edge questions that all public officers should be asked, is not illegal, is not immoral and it is, in many ways, everyone's rights.

So, what prompted the Gainesville police officers to arrest this 21-year kid? According to the live-feed of this broadcast, this is the actual interaction between him and Mr. Kerry including questions such as:

1) Why Mr. Kerry conceded in his 2004 presidential fiasco that Mr. Bush be impeach for lying to the American public about our role in Iraq's war;
2) Whether Mr. Kerry was a member of the Skull Bones, a secret society at Yale University

For asking two questions, someone reminded Mr. Meyer that he was only allowed to ask one question, not more than that. This prompted Mr. Meyer to ask, "He's (Mr. Kerry) talked for two hours. I think I can have two minutes."

Before he knew it, though, not only did he have four or five officers on top of him trying to pin him down to the floor, even as Mr. Meyer yelled and screamed to be left alone. For the record, Mr. Meyer seemed to be resisting an arrest, but who's to blame him? Regardless, before he knew it he was not only being tasered as the nightly news reports have played over and over again, but he was on his way to the jail-house.

All this time, Mr. Meyer kept yelling and asking: "what have I done?"

The question is this, none of this should have gotten so out of hand and not one of the officers, short of feeling there was a threat to anyone there, should have behaved the way they did. Lest anyone forget, there should be wide latitude (and I mean wide latitude), for tolerating speech-- including speech we don't like; speech we detest; speech that seems to malign us. This is truer at a place that harbors free-thought, such as an university.

An even more troubling issue is that none of this should have happened. Mr. Meyer didn't necessarily act nor react in an unexpected or unreasonable manner. He had a right to ask anything he felt like it. People do it all the time, even television moderators who go beyond the alloted number of questions given by people they interview.

Mr. Meyer, you have a right to ask whatever you feel like asking anyone, particularly a public official, and your right is as precious due to the meaning it has in our country's history. Period. Simple as that.

However, look what happened. What's going on?

Like Mr. Meyer's sample, we thrive in a society which seems to have shaped itself along the lines of expediency, not legitimacy or substance. Of course, anyone is under the impression that this is a free society, which it isn't. You are as free to ask and expect a response, if you know your limits and if you ask it correctly-- and I'm not referring to manners. Ask the stupid and insubstantial questions and you may get only a few dishonest answer from many of our politicians, if they feel like it, when they feel like it, if they feel like it all. Ask the real questions, the honest-to-goodness questions, and you might get arrested, made to feel ridicule, or pay the price as a social outcast.

Learn your lesson once, or else.

I've known a lot of rebels and social outcasts in my lifetime, mainly leaders in the social movements from the 1950's and 1960's. I am thinking of one of whom I've never written about though I knew her well, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, who paid the price with her life.

Some of these people, unlike Ms. O'Hair, didn't end their lives as tragically as hers did, but most of their lives were made a living hell by our populist desire to make everyone an iron cast mold of One idea. But, these people are the people who made the fabric of our nation, shaped our identity, overruled noxious laws into laws most of us can abide by. Our country was not built on stupidity, it was the result of a hard-fought battle, an intellectual as much as a blood-soaked battle. However, unlike many other nation-states that began as a dream built on a hill and just ended up in a dystopia, ours still remain a beacon of freedom.

Let's keep it that way.

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