The Big Question:
Did the University of Florida Police Department use excessive force against Andrew Meyer, a student who disrupted a town hall forum?
On September 17, 2007, a student named Andrew Meyer asked a series of lengthy questions at an open forum featuring John Kerry and sponsored by the University of Florida. After he exceeded his allotted time and his microphone was cut off, he appeared to lose his temper. Four University of Florida police officers intervened to escort Meyer from the room, prompting applause from the crowd of students. Meyer resisted arrest for several minutes, and was then tasered. He has been booked on charges of disturbing the peace and resisting arrest.
The incident is receiving widespread coverage due to a recording of the attempted arrest and tasering that is presently available on YouTube. The recording begins at the very last of Meyer's questions, dealing with Yale's Skull & Bones fraternity, leaving viewers with the impression that he was abruptly arrested after asking one question.
The Initial Arrest:
Officers who witness a misdemeanor in progress have the authority to intervene. If Meyer had in fact disrupted the event by refusing to relinquish the microphone, then appeared to continue to disrupt the event after his microphone was turned off, officers would have been obligated to restore order.
The use of the taser by University of Florida police officers, on the other hand, is more problematic. Tasers are generally considered nonlethal weapons, but the amount of electricity involved can potentially kill a suspect with preexisting medical conditions, particularly suspects who have pacemakers. It is also reasonable to ask why the six officers had so much difficulty restraining one student without use of a taser.
A National Problem:
Tasers tend to be overused by police officers who are not educated in the proper use of tasers. One particularly startling recent case involves a security guard who used a taser against a man holding a newborn infant, causing him to drop the infant and exposing the infant to potentially life-threatening amounts of electricity.
The University of Florida Police Department is conducting an internal investigation into the incident. While Meyer appears to be fine, the investigation will hopefully lead to a new, more sensible policy on taser use.
The vast majority of victims of taser overuse are not disruptive college students at political town hall forums; they are low-income Americans, usually low-income people of color, tasered in less YouTube-friendly contexts. These incidents seldom receive much attention. Tasers are an excellent alternative to deadly force in cases where there is some risk to the officer or the larger community, but they should not be used casually as a timesaving device or as a means to quiet noisy suspects.
What You Can Do:
- Contact the University of Florida Police Department at (352) 392 1111 and state (politely but firmly) that you are concerned about police misuse of tasers. State, in particular, that you would like to see the university adopt a new taser use policy.
- Join the ACLU, which has done more than any other organization to convince and/or force municipalities to regulate taser use, particularly through its local chapters.
- Join the NAACP, which has also done considerable work in this area.