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A HERO OR A FOOL? OR A SIGN OF THE TIMES?

by | Sep 23, 2007 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Free speech is a vital issue. Civil rights is a vital issue. Police brutality is a vital issue.

But when Andrew Meyer, a 21-year-old University of Florida student, was rude, disruptive and got dragged off and Tasered by police – after being warned and still resisting – I’m not sure THAT was a vital issue.

Oh, you wouldn’t know it from the coverage. For a white-hot 24 hours, this was all you saw on cable TV and – more important to Meyer’s generation – YouTube, where it shot to the top.

There was Meyer, shouting questions at Sen. John Kerry, then being led away by police, then squirming and resisting, then going down in a pile and screaming “Don’t Tase me, bro!” (even though one of the officers was a woman).

At first watch, it was disturbing.

But it didn’t take long before “Don’t Tase Me Bro” T-shirts were selling on the Internet, and news had leaked of Meyer’s history of practical jokes filmed for his Web site.

And you began to wonder, as I find myself doing more and more these days, what exactly we had just seen.

A bizarre chain of events

Let’s be clear about the behavior in Meyer’s case. The question-and-answer period from Kerry’s lecture was over; Meyer insisted on asking his question anyhow. He was told one question; he asked at least three. He was told to stop; he refused. The mike was turned off; he complained. He was led away by police; he resisted. He was told if he continued, he would be Tasered; he was.

In other words, there were numerous points at which Meyer, had he acted differently, might not have been jolted or tossed in jail for a night. Still, his supporters suggest that his principle was a higher cause.

Well, I agree free speech in the shadow of authoritarian violence is a high cause. Tiananmen Square. Kent State. The march in Selma. But to liken Meyer to any of those is to cheapen them and elevate him.

Here are the “crucial” questions Meyer insisted on disturbing the event over: Why Kerry didn’t fight harder to challenge the 2004 election, impeaching President George W. Bush, and did Kerry and Bush belong to the Skull and Bones society at Yale.

Hardly new material. Meyer also told Kerry about a book he thought he should read. Not exactly “We Shall Overcome.”

What I’m saying is, there are things that are worth fighting police over and there are things that are not. Once you’ve acted rudely, taken advantage of your opportunity, and the only “issue” is you not getting your very average questions answered – maybe this is one of the “nots.”

The state of our society

Now, having said that – and please read this carefully – the police were wrong to have used the Taser. They had the kid under control. It was overkill. Which is why two officers have been placed on leave.

But you know what’s scarier than that? We don’t know – and maybe never will – if the whole thing was done to get attention. It sure appeared on YouTube quickly enough. And while Meyer, through his lawyer on TV this past week, claimed attention wasn’t his motivation, once you’ve had yourself filmed and displayed on your Web site before, you leave it open to question.

Honestly, in this world of reality TV, the questions never end. There was a book 10 years ago called “Eyewitness To History” that collected the rare accounts of encounters with people as distant as Attila the Hun and Napoleon.

Today, everyone is an Eyewitness To History – to nearly everything – yet we don’t know what we’re seeing. Just because something is on tape doesn’t mean it wasn’t staged or edited. Just last week, an audio recording of O.J. Simpson in an alleged memorabilia robbery was later accused of being doctored – this after every major media outlet had played it countless times.

As for Meyer, who knows? It may seem like it was overreacting (his screaming “Owwww!” or bolting back down the aisle after he had been led to the door). And if getting famous for 15 seconds was his wish, well, wish granted.

But as for Andrew Meyer, Hero, Champion of Free Speech? Sorry. But as they say in sports, I’ll need to check the videotape.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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