Radley Balko writes about a little bit of police over-reaction during an impromptu birthday party for Thomas Jefferson:
Tonight, a group of about 20 D.C.-area libertarians headed down to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial for some flash mob fun. The prank was harmless revelry: To ring in Jefferson’s birthday, we would meet on the steps of the memorial at 11:55pm, wearing iPods, then dance for about 10 minutes, capture the whole thing on video, and leave.
Courtney and I were about 10 minutes late, but by the time we arrived it was already over. The National Park Police broke the whole thing up just a few minutes in, punctuating their lack of a sense of humor by arresting one of the dancers (we’re keeping her name private at least until she’s released later this morning). She was cuffed, taken out to a paddy wagon, then booked and held at a Park Police station. Everyone I spoke with says there was no noise, there were no threats, and no laws broken (the park police I spoke with–including the arresting officer (who, oddly enough, denied to me that he was the arresting officer)–declined to say why she had been arrested).
The police refused to answer any questions, referring all calls to the communication number of the Park Police, which at this hour is closed. They also refused to give their badge numbers.
Of course, the real irony here is that all of this happened at the Jefferson Memorial, in observance of Jefferson’s birthday. Go out to celebrate the birth of the most hardcore, anti-authoritarian of the Founding Fathers, get hauled off in handcuffs. The photo’s almost poetry, isn’t it? One of history’s most articulate critics of abuse of state authority looks on as a park police cop uses his elbow to push a female arrestee into one of said critic’s memorial pillars.
All this while the man who said “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants” watched on in eternal silence.
Megan McArdle makes this observation:
The background: twenty people were at the Jefferson Memorial, dancing to the private groove of their own iPods so as not to disturb anyone. Apparently cops showed up and ordered them to disperse anyway, despite the fact that they were not doing anything obviously illegal. One of the libertarians joyfully (yet tastefully and quietly) celebrating the birthday of a favorite founding father questioned why they should have to move along–at which point one of DC’s finest shoved them up against a pillar, cuffed their hands behind their back, and hauled them away.
As a resident of DC, I’m certainly overjoyed to hear that violent crime has fallen to a level where we can spare valuable police resources to fight the silent scourge of . . . dancing. Now that we have no more murders or muggings, it seems to me that we should also be looking at newsboys who smoke, women who attend the theater, and of course, the iniquitous habit of playing cards on the sabbath.
[T]he problem here is not that one of my friends, an educated white girl, had to spend five hours or so being harassed by the police. It is that the police think that questioning orders constitutes disorderly conduct. And that the result of questioning them is probably a lot more than moderate harassment when the questioner is not an educated white girl with a lot of camera toting friends.
And James Joyner observes:
I’m concerned with the increasing friction between ordinary citizens and the police. The days when the police spoke to the general public — whom they are paid to serve — with polite deference are long gone. Instead, most have adopted a bullying attitude and demand to be treated with unearned deference. We’ve gone from Joe Friday and Andy Taylor to “Cops” and “The Wire.”
Well put, but I’ve got to wonder if part of the reason for that is that we’ve increasingly trained the police to look at every little petty offense, including dancing to your iPod on Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, as a grave threat to public safety.