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Don't waste the First Amendment on this guy

By now, I'm sure you've seen this and read the phrase "freedom of speech" with more caps lock and exclamation points than the Founders ever intended.

Apparently, the facts are these: after making sure he was being caught on tape, a self-aggrandizing prankster named Andrew Meyer barged into a question-and-answer session with John Kerry at the University of Florida and took over the microphone to deliver his own little lecture, telling Kerry he should have challenged the 2004 presidential election results (to applause). After Meyer's rant crescendoed into the profane, the organizers cut off his mic. He refused to step down, so police officers started to escort him out of the room, as the audience applauded again. (Meanwhile, gentleman Kerry offered to answer his question anyway.)

That's just the beginning. Meyer loudly resisted the cops' attempt to remove him from the premises, so as they're wont to do with people who decide to tango with them, the officers forced him to the floor. He screamed, "Don't Tase me, bro!" as he fought their attempt to 'cuff him, and then they did indeed Tase him. Meanwhile, John Kerry made another one of his trademark off-color jokes. In a strange coincidence, his surprised flailing ended as soon as the cameras stopped rolling:

Meyer's "demeanor completely changed once the cameras were not in sight" and that he was "laughing" and "lighthearted" while being transported to jail.

The charges?
Police recommended charges of resisting arrest with violence, a felony, and disturbing the peace and interfering with school administrative functions, a misdemeanor.

More information is available at Meyer's website, http://www.theandrewmeyer.com/, where you can also find his "disorganized diatribes" and videos of other pranks. Or, you can reach him by e-mail at famouswriterman@aol.com. I can't decide whether the part before the @ or after it is more ridiculous.

If the government were to execute him in secret, as he insisted they were about to do on his way out of the building, for asking a United States Senator a question at a lecture, that would indeed be an outrage. But that's not why they "gave him the government;" he tried to monopolize a guest lecture, and he fought with the police officers who tried to escort him out peacefully. Is he supposed to get a medal for being a jerk and ruining someone else's organized event? There was a completely peaceful, concise way to ask his provocative questions, and the lecture would have been much more interesting if that had been what he did - I'd love to see John Kerry, or anyone else, defend the Democrats' willingness to let Bush have his way every time.

But this confrontation wasn't about John Kerry: it was about Andrew Meyer. From his insistence on being videotaped and the way he changed his tune once he was off-camera, it's obvious he had at least a half-baked plan to make a scene. Of course the moderator cut him off when he got vulgar (I would actually have done it sooner - people came to hear a former Presidential candidate, not some dude), but that played right into his hand. Whether in the heat of misplaced passion or in a calculated move for attention, he decided to pick a fight with the police instead of protesting nonviolently, and the final nail on the cross he built for himself was planted by a stun gun.

Was the Taser excessive for the situation? I don't know the particulars of nonlethal weaponry or police protocol, but I can't see how it was necessary once the guy was already on the floor. That's a real issue, lost in the martyrdom craze. Should the police even carry Tasers on campus? Well, if a prominent member of Congress were speaking at a public event and someone started wrestling with the police, I'd feel a lot more comfortable if they had a (nonlethal) way of pacifying him, because no one could have any way of knowing whether he was armed, and his belligerent intent was already clear.

Was it wrong to arrest a guy for asking a question? First, that's not what happened - he was arrested for the scene he made and his scuffle with the police after they tried to get him to leave quietly. But didn't he have a Constitutional right to be an ass? Of course, but not in this setting. He's more than welcome to find himself an honest-to-goodness soapbox or organize a parade or put another transvestite video on his website, but the First Amendment doesn't protect his right to take over someone else's forum and equipment in order to say his piece. He has the freedom of speech, not the freedom to make other people shut up and listen.

There are very real threats to First-Amendment rights out there, but the frivolous misapplication of those principles on situations like this is why nine-tenths of the Bill of Rights is little more than a punchline on conservative talk radio.