The University of Florida suspended two officers this week after campus police shocked a student with a stun gun for disrupting a political forum attended by Sen. John Kerry. The man—Andrew Meyer, 21—reportedly grabbed the microphone out of turn and asked Kerry several questions, including why Congress hadn’t tried to impeach President Bush.
On a video widely circulated on the Internet -- and shot with a camera Meyer reportedly handed another student before taking the mic -- Meyer said, “Don’t Tase me, bro’.” Then an officer shocked him with a Taser gun. Hundreds of angry students formed what they called a support group, called Don’t Taser Me, Bro’, and staged a protest on campus.
"This is the birth of a new kind of celebrity," said Eric Deggans in the St. Petersburg, Fla., Times. One video gets posted on YouTube and suddenly this "prankster-activist" is "a global star" whose antics get more coverage than Hillary Clinton's health-care plan or the latest news from Iraq.
“Call it the shock felt 'round the world,” said the Gainesveille, Fla., Sun in an editorial. Despite the university's immediate shift into damage-control mode, the campus is now at the center of a national debate over the limits of free speech, and the excessive use of force in increasingly partisan political debate. The kid was clearly “obnoxious,” but he didn’t deserve to be swarmed by six officers and turned into jelly by a jolt of several thousand volts.
Please. Meyer got what he asked for -- publicity, said Michelle Malkin on her blog. “This thing is eclipsing O.J.” Of course the “usual protest mob” has emerged, and all because Meyer created a scene and hammed it up at just the right moment—when the cameras started to roll.
This was not just a case of college shenanigans in the YouTube age, said Naomi Wolf in The Huffington Post. It was “an iconic turning point and it will be remembered as the moment at which America either fought back or yielded” to the erosion of basic rights under a president who now has the power "to imprison innocent U.S. citizens for months in isolation.”
Hold on, said Frank James on the Chicago Tribune’s The Swamp blog. There’s plenty of blame for everybody here. Sure, the police could have been a tad less aggressive. But Kerry didn’t exactly over-exert himself trying to avert a disaster. Of course, the real agent provocateur here was Meyer. Nobody forced him to “inflict his not-so-winning personality on the rest of the audience and on Kerry as though his free-speech rights trumped their right to civil discussion.”
“About the only thing everybody seems to agree on is that free speech is a good thing, up to a point,” said Emil Steiner on The Washington Post’s OFF/Beat blog. “The question seems to be where that point is, and how to balance it against maintaining order.”