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by Matthew Cardinale

Ban Electro-shock Devices, Says Amnesty International (1997)

(IPS) GAINESVILLE -- Debates - about the abuse of police power and the right to free speech have flared up in the U.S., following the harsh treatment of a journalism student at the University of Florida last week.

Campus police at the university tackled the student, Andrew Meyer, and used a Taser to shock him with high-voltage electricity after he refused to give up the floor during a question-and-answer session with Sen. John Kerry.

According to amateur videos of the incident, the majority of the students at the lecture appeared merely to sit in their seats and watch what was going on. Only one female student can be heard screaming, "Stop! Stop! Why are you doing this? Oh my God!"

Hundreds of students, however, protested on campus in the days that followed.

"No matter what the situation leading up to the arrest, the conduct of the officers during the arrest, including the Tasering and the excessive use of force in general, was inappropriate," said Loren Jones, 20, an anthropology student at the University of Florida.

An informal coalition of student groups, including Students for a Democratic Society, Students Against War and the Progressive Caucus, have been involved in the protests, along with many others who heard about the incident on the Internet, Jones said.

"I believe public discourse was in process and it was a peaceful process. Kerry had agreed to answer his question, and yes the content of his questions may have been slightly beyond what people are used to hearing, but it was not egregiously out of line," Jones said.

"He was in no way acting threatening or doing anything that warranted his being forcibly removed from the building or being Tasered," Jones said.

Jones added that students frequently go over the one-minute time limit at other events sponsored by Accents, the University's speakers' bureau, without being tackled and shocked with electrified darts.

At the Tuesday protest, police handed protest leaders five pamphlets about how to file a complaint with the police, Jones said. Students filed about 90 complaints the following day, she said.

Several amateur videos of MeyerŐs arrest started circulating six days ago on the Web site YouTube, and they have now been viewed more than 2 million times. Advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International have strongly condemned the campus police's actions.

On the videos, the incident starts with Meyer brandishing a copy of Greg Palast's book, "Armed Madhouse," and asking Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, how he could have conceded the election, despite reports of the disenfranchisement of African American voters and of electronic voting machines that counted backwards.

Only seconds into his question, Meyer appears to be responding to someone asking him to stop speaking. "I'll ask my question, thank you," he says.

"If you're so against [invading] Iran, how come you're not saying, let's impeach Bush now? ... Clinton was impeached for what, a blow job. Why don't we impeach Bush?" Meyer asks. "Also ... were you a member of Skull and Bones in college with Bush? Were you in the same secret society as Bush?" Meyer asks, as his microphone is shut off.

As Meyer turns around, he is grabbed by two police, who say "Stop!" and appear to try to pull him out of the building. He asks, "Are you going to arrest me?"

"I'm not going anywhere. Get off of me. Get off of me," Meyer says, pulling away from the police. "Let me go. What's going on? I want to stay and listen to the answers to my questions."

By this time, four police are pulling at Meyer. He shouts "Help! Help! Are you kidding? They're arresting me!" as one heavy-set officer essentially bull-charges Meyer toward the exit.

Six police then force him to the ground facedown with his hands behind his back. He shouts, "Get off of me!" Then, "Don't Taser me, bro! Don't Tase' me!"

Then Meyer starts screaming, "Ah! Ah!"

An e-mail sent to Andrew Meyer from IPS was not returned, although Meyer's attorney told other media outlets that the student is currently recovering from the incident. To Jones' knowledge, Meyer has not participated in the protests and has largely been missing in action.

Kerry has refrained from condemning the actions of the police, and a representative from his office said there were no plans to do so.

Oddly, Kerry continued to stand on stage and attempt to answer Meyer's question, even as the student was dragged screaming down the aisle and out of the building.

"In 37 years of public appearances, through wars, protests and highly emotional events, I have never had a dialogue end this way. I believe I could have handled the situation without interruption, but again I do not know what warnings or other exchanges transpired between the young man and the police prior to his barging to the front of the line and their intervention," Kerry said in a statement.

"I asked the police to allow me to answer the question and was in the process of answering him when he was taken into custody. I was not aware a Taser was used until after I left the building. I hope neither the student nor any of the police were injured. I regret enormously that a good healthy discussion was interrupted," he said.

When asked why Kerry did not specifically ask the police to stop, Kerry's representative replied, "We are hoping to hear more information about the incident. There is a report, for example, that a police officer was injured, and the incident is under investigation. We'd like to be able to make a fuller statement when more information is available."

Asked what basis there was for Kerry's claim that a police officer may have been injured, Kerry's office clarified that it has no evidence of this. Kerry's office first asked for their clarification to be off-the-record, then backtracked when IPS pointed out that the office had already made the unsubstantiated claim by e-mail. Kerry's representative then hung up.

"A student gets the Taser for asking a simple question. But what's more frightening is the reaction of those in the audience who sat through the screams of the student being Tasered, listening to Kerry, who obviously became a man bereft of his senses," said Cynthia McKinney, an outspoken former Democratic representative from Georgia, in a statement sent to IPS.

"No police officer should be in the business of denying constitutional rights to anyone. ... What is happening to us? How much more will the people accept?" said McKinney, who herself was assaulted by a Capital Hill police officer last year.

Meyer's attorney, Robert Griscti, told reporters Tuesday that he plans to fight to have the charges against Meyer dropped. Police charged Meyer with a third-degree felony for resisting an officer with violence and a second-degree misdemeanor for disturbing the peace, according to the police report.

The maximum penalty for the felony is five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The misdemeanor could mean 60 days in prison and a $500 fine, according to the Independent Florida Alligator student newspaper.

The University of Florida has said there will also be an internal investigation of the campus policeŐs actions and use-of-force policies.

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Albion Monitor   September 25, 2007   (

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