Sunday, May 29, 2011

Footloose II? Maybe not.

Over on Brilliant at Breakfast, Jill found this video. Please watch it in it's entirety (well, OK, halfway through, it just switches to alternate camera views of the same thing - I guess you've gotten the picture at that point).

Holy crap, right? This is America? No dancing allowed? Do we live in a police state? Did Reverend Shaw Moore get elected to Congress? What the hell? I thought Cheney and his jackbooted thugs had been disbanded.

That looks like a flash mob that hadn't really set up, getting shut down (and then thrown down) by Park Police. And did you catch that threat implied in the sergeant's statement, that "you might end up in jail for 48 hours"? And then the body slams, and... Oh my god!

But, you know, there's an old saying about every story having two sides. And that's a hell of an expensive camera that keeps showing up in frame: flash mobs don't tend to be using high-end professional video equipment. So I did a little research. First step: the video is branded "Adam vs the Man," and the title gives you the name "Adam Kokesh." So I looked him up.

Turns out that Kokesh is a kind of a media whore. He was a marine, and during his first tour in Iraq, brought back a war souvenir, which is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Now, Wikipedia quotes a story from the Newhouse News Service saying that because of that, he "was demoted to corporal and soon thereafter discharged honorably with a re-enlistment code that basically said, 'you can't re-enlist.'" He then joined the Individual Ready Reserve, which isn't a full-time active duty military slot, but is still in the military. Which means that he was still under the UCMJ.

So he wore his uniform to a rally protesting the Iraq War, which is also a violation of the UCMJ (he's allowed to attend political events, he just isn't allowed to be in uniform - the military doesn't want to appear to support either side of any debate). Got in trouble for that, but they went easy on him.

He started getting publicity for high-profile protests: a squad-sized "occupation patrol" of DC, to give Americans a taste of what it's like; holding up a large sign at the Alberto Gonzalez hearing, saying that Gonzalez had said "I don't know" 74 times; getting arrested for trespassing in Fort Benning; stuff like that. He rode his internet celebrity into a local libertarian radio show here in Albuquerque, which was picked up by the Russia Today television network.

(And, you know, really? Russia Today? I can understand making a living, and I, personally, don't have a problem with RT, but you can see where the image problem kicks in there, right?)

So, that's him.

Now, in 2008, a small libertarian flash mob gathered at the Jefferson Memorial to celebrate the birthday of Jefferson. In breaking them up, one woman was arrested. Her suit was tossed out, with the judge ruling in a 26 page report that:
"The purpose of the memorial is to publicize Thomas Jefferson's legacy, so that critics and supporters alike may contemplate his place in history. The Park Service prohibits all demonstrations in the interior of the memorial, in order to maintain 'an atmosphere of calm, tranquillity, and reverence.' Prohibiting demonstrations is a reasonable means of ensuring a tranquil and contemplative mood at the Jefferson Memorial."
"Plus, an organized protest is required to get a permit," the judge did not add.

And two weeks ago, the US Court of Appeals affirmed that judgement.

(Remember that thing about permits, by the way. And the phrase "organized protests.")

And the five protesters were taken to the police station, charged with demonstrating without a permit, then released a short time later.

Is this a stupid law? I think so. Did the police overreact? Well, hell yes. They didn't need to body-slam anybody - that was over the top. But I've done crowd control: they needed to move fast and shut this down before it escalated: the longer it lasts, the more people join in. And everything can get much worse, very quickly.

And were the Park Police placed in an untenable position? Looks that way to me.


tsisa said...

Hey thanks, Nameless Cynic. I kind of thought the protesters were being assholish, anyway. I appreciate the research. Things are not always what they seem.

LarryE said...

Sorry, but your "other side of the story" winds up on the same side.

The whole bit about Adam Kokesh is thoroughly irrelevant and changes not a single material fact of the incident.

Beyond that, you yourself wind up saying the law is "stupid" and "hell, yes," the police overreacted to a completely nonviolent protest of that same "stupid" law. How that expresses anything different from what Jill expresses is impossible for a reasonable person to grasp.

One other thing:

"Plus, an organized protest is required to get a permit," the judge did not add.

Bzzt. As a general legal principle, which is what you appear to be expressing, organized protests in public areas are only required to get permits if the action is such as to deny the use of some public facility or area to others - which neither the flash mob which started this nor the later protest did. (Take that from someone who has organized quite literally dozens of rallies and picket lines.)

Nameless Cynic said...

There is nothing in what you say (um... type?) that's wrong. The officers were wrong from the beginning. As were the protesters.

Jill only saw one side. I felt that there was a little bit more to the story. Doesn't exonerate the Park Police, by any means.

The sergeant should absolutely have told them what the charges would be. (To be honest, I don't think he had to - that's a police issue. Federal officers run under different rules - local authorities can hold you for 24 hours without charging you, but the feds can hold you for 72 - and that was before the Patriot Act was in place.) But how stupid would he have looked trying to say "We'll charge you with dancing in a memorial?" It's the second stupidest law ever put down. But, yeah, should've at least gone with "protesting without a permit."

Which, by the way, they needed. They had in excess of 93 people confirmed being there, and I think 1500 possibles. (Yeah, this is Facebook, but you still have to plan for the worst.) Even if they only got half the "confirms" and 1 of the "possibles", that many people just at the scene, not to mention dancing around. Even if (gods help us all) it hadn't been declared illegal to dance in the fucking Jefferson Memorial.

(Looks like they got a little over 10% of the confirms and none of the possibles, but who's to say?)

Overreaction? Hell, yes. Nobody needed to get bodyslammed. That was ridiculous. One guy on each arm, slap on the cuffs, move him out. But they didn't do that. They felt they were pressured, they reacted badly.

(Plus, this is the Park Police. They get no respect to begin with. They're treated as a joke by most other Law Enforcement agencies, so maybe they get a little testy on the subject. It's like a guy in the Coast Guard (* cough * my brother-in-law) surrounded by a bunch of ex- and current military types trading stories...)

I'm just saying that:

a) dancing in the Jefferson Memorial is not necessarily equivalent to the civil rights movement, the anti-war protests of the 1970s, or the women's suffrage movement, and

b) this is just some media whore trying to jump his profile into public view, with a viral video that doesn't really tell the whole story.

Take that from someone who may side, in principal, with the protesters, but has been on the other side of that line.