Wednesday, September 19, 2007

From Florida to Burma -- a tasered heckler and tear-gassed monks

By Michael J.W. Stickings

There has been a good deal of attention, and rightly so, directed at the tasering of an obnoxious heckler, Andrew Meyer, at a John Kerry speech at the University of Florida on Monday. The right, notably Michelle Malkin and the obnoxious hecklers at The Weekly Standard, have been using it to attack Kerry, as if the whole incident was somehow his fault. (No, they would not be heckling so had the victim been a heckler at a Republican event, and, of course, the right remains enamored of fascist police tactics generally, as long as the victims are the right victims, such is the right's penchant for authoritarianism these days.) But two police officers have been suspended without pay, the president of the University of Florida, Bernie Machen, has called the incident "regretful" and called for a state investigation, and Kerry, who insists his exchange with Meyer was a "good healthy discussion," one that he "could have handled... without interruption," criticized both the tasering and the arrest. If anything -- and I do not mean to diminish the severity of the incident -- this was yet another brutal example of the use of excessive force by the police, an unfortunate and unnecessary use of excessive force that just happened to have involved, indirectly, John Kerry.

There needs to be an investigation, the use of excessive force by the police needs to be challenged, and, ultimately, the use of tasers needs to be addressed once and for all. There is no excuse for what happened here, as in countless other incidents that never make their way onto YouTube.

As always, you can find a lot of reaction at Memeorandum -- and I recommend in particular the thoughtful reactions of Melissa McEwan, Steve Benen, Pamela Leavey (a dedicated Kerry supporter), Libby Spencer, and the GTL (and, yes, I do agree that Kerry ought to have responded more quickly and more forcefully).


While the tasering of a single heckler at the University of Florida has received coverage here, there, and everywhere, however, we would do well to remember that in some other parts of the world police and military brutality is a way of life (and death).

It is always reprehensible, but what is happening in the totalitarian state of Burma, what the totalitarians call Myanmar, is appalling. This is not to attempt to quantify such brutality but rather to remark on the totalitarian scope of brutality in some other parts of the world. There is brutality in the U.S., to be sure, as in other liberal democracies, but it cannot in general be described as totalitarian. It is, thankfully, the (admittedly all-too-common) exception -- and the aggressively indignant reaction from all across the spectrum, even from hypocritical right-wingers looking to score cheap political points, would seem to indicate that, as a rule, such brutality is not sanctioned.

(Or maybe not a rule: The widespread brutality at America's horrific correctional facilities goes largely ignored, and, of course, there is the widespread, and state-sanctioned, use of brutality under the guise of national security, much of it finding gleeful encouragement on the right.)

Regardless, to return to Burma, the brutality there resembles the brutality of some of the more noteworthy totalitarian regimes of the last century. Consider this latest example:

Military officials in Burma have used tear gas to disperse hundreds of monks holding a rally in the north-west city of Sittwe, reports from the area say.

Some of them were beaten and several were arrested, eyewitnesses say.

The tasering of a heckler at a John Kerry speech is hardly defensible, but nor is the tear-gassing of monks at a peaceful rally to oppose political oppression. But where the tasering triggered immediate and widespread opposition, a likely investigation, and possible reform, not to mention a popular YouTube clip, the tear-gassing and the beatings and the rest of the brutality in Burma will continue under a regime that is terrorizing the Burmese people.

Brutality everywhere, from Florida to Burma, must be resisted and opposed and brought to justice. But let us remember that it is happening everywhere.


This is one of the "better" YouTube clips of the Meyer incident. It is clear that the police acted with excessive and completely unnecessary force:

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