Thursday, April 17, 2008

'No more fun of any kind!'

UPDATED & BUMPED (AGAIN!): Adding new material at the end, plus discussion of the WaPo's disgusting coverage of the case, and video of Jason Talley talking about the incident on NBC-4:

Very interesting how schoolkids on a field trip to the Memorial cause far more noise at midday than did 20 dancers at midnight. "Officer, arrest those third-graders!" By the way, there is now a legal defense fund to help defray Brooke Oberwetter's court expenses.

* * * * *
The Washington Post's coverage of this case is so infuriating that I will not even link to the story. As Radley Balko notes, the story gets wrong one basic fact about the arrest, a fact that anyone with two eyes could see. Plus, never mind calling her "Mary" when everyone knows she goes by Brooke.

Down lower in this (very long) post, I crack a lot of jokes in an effort to add the healing balm of humor to a situation involving friends of mine. But I became extremely angry -- in a very serious way -- when I saw that the WaPo reporter had included some personal information about Miss Oberwetter's family that was entirely extraneous to the story.

The first time I met her, she was working at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Several of my friends work at CEI and one of them told me about her family background. So the second time I met Miss Oberwetter, I mentioned this, and she became furious: "Who told you that?"

Miss Oberwetter is her own person, and doesn't go around trying to impress people. So my friend who let her secret slip to me -- a journalist, for crying out loud! -- got himself an earful the next time he encountered Miss Oberwetter.

That's why when that WaPo reporter twice referenced her family -- getting it into the third paragraph of the story -- it kind of boiled my blood. That bit of biography was entirely irrelevant to the story of her getting arrested for dancing. The reporter invaded Brooke's privacy. She's an independent 28-year-old (she had to put her blog on hiatus because of her job), her father is not a politician, and her arrest had nothing to do with her father.

Still . . . why do I now suspect that if she were the daughter of a Democrat, the WaPo story would be more sympathetic to her plight?
An eyewitness account of "The Jefferson 1" incident at last reveals the name of the terpsichorean perpetrator:
Organized by Bureaucrash, the youth-oriented libertarian affiliate of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Thomas Jefferson Dance Party looked to revive the dancing-as-freedom meme with a dedication to many free marketeers' favorite founding father on the occasion of his 265th birthday.
The plan was simple enough: Freedom-loving individuals . . . would gather in the Jefferson Memorial just before midnight, April 13, and spend ten minutes bopping, swaying and moonwalking to honor the author of the Declaration of Independence.
So as not to disturb any fellow memorial visitors, the group . . . opted to wear headphones and listen to their own iPods. As it turned out, the half-dozen or so unrelated onlookers who happened to be on-hand (the park is open 24 hours) appeared mostly amused by the spectacle.
Security personnel assuredly were not amused. Within two minutes of the event's start, they began moving to disperse the crowd, ordering the dancers to leave immediately, forcibly laying their hands on some and hurling profanities at others.
A few party-goers attempted to explain the nature of the event, but memorial staff were in no mood to discuss political theory. At 11:59, just four minutes after the event's start, U.S. Park Police had detained and were handcuffing the aforementioned "Jefferson 1" -- 28-year-old occasional Spectator contributor Brooke Oberwetter -- ostensibly for unauthorized dancing.
OK, so now her name is out there. Brooke is a friend, someone I know from attending various free-market events around D.C. Most recently I saw her at the Media Research Center "Dishonor Awards" gala -- she's shown here at the gala reception with Derek Hunter and J.P. Freire:

To know Brooke is to gain a deeper appreciation of John Randolph of Roanoke's famous declaration, "I love liberty. I hate equality. I am an aristocrat." Like Randolph, Brooke is a libertarian aristocrat. If she were to write a self-help book, it would be called Get In Touch With Your Inner Patrician.

Brooke has a sort of innate dignity, and you can imagine the horror her friends felt when they saw two cops shove her up against a column of the Jefferson Memorial and put her in handcuffs. In the video of the incident, you can hear Jason Talley mutter: "Holy f---ing s---!"

I had been invited to the dance party, and had hoped to attend. Unfortunately, I had an assignment to cover Bob Barr's appearance in Burlington, N.C., that day, and was still driving back home when the midnight hour arrived.

About 10 minutes after the arrest at the Memorial, I was rolling through Virginia on I-95 North when my cell phone rang. It was Lene Johansen, a science writer who is the current Warren T. Brookes Fellow at CEI. "Stacy, you've got to get down here!" Lene said. "They just arrested Brooke!"

Lene filled me in on the situation, but by the time I could reach the D.C. area, it would be far too late -- and I would be far too tired -- to do any reporting. By dawn, however, the blogosphere had jumped into action, with Megan McArdle and others blogging about the incident.

Other bloggers were not naming the arrestee, and I followed suit. Then Radley Balko posted a video in which eyewitness Nicki Kurokawa used Brooke's first name in describing the incident, so I thought it was safe to begin using the first name. But then somebody asked that I stop that, so I edited the name out and referred to her instead as "name witheld" or "B."

Well, now her identity is public, and I suspect the Spectator story will not be the last we hear of "The Jefferson 1" incident.

We should all be grateful that the incident ended without any bloodshed. Which is to say, it's a good thing I was in North Carolina instead of at the Memorial that night, because those cops would have had to shoot me before I would have stood by while they manhandled Brooke and dragged her away in cuffs.

Sir Walter Raleigh was also an aristocrat, you know.

As to the issues of liberty-vs.-order involved in the "J1" incident, the Spectator's Phillip Klein -- also an eyewitness to the arrest -- offers his perspective:
I make my debut as a Nazi collaborator in the third video, about 4:30 in. My voice can be heard off camera. As the dancer is being detained, libertarians are yelling about the oppressive state, and the legacy of Japanese internment to a puzzled officer who (to my knowledge) wasn't responsible for the arrest. Though I agreed that the arrest itself was absolutely ridiculous, I made an ill-fated attempt to argue to a crowd of perturbed libertarians that lobbing anti-statist rhetoric at an officer who didn't seem to know what was going on, wasn't the most productive course of action. Needless to say, it didn't go over too well with my companions, and I was soon reminded that, "Adolf Eichmann said he was just doing his job!"
Despite my chivalrous offer to take a bullet for Brooke, my own longtime policy is: Never argue with the police.

When the state trooper says he clocked me at 89 mph, I might politely suggest that perhaps his radar was miscalibrated. I might offer some lame excuse and ask if maybe, just this one time, he could let me go with a warning. I might even accidentally have a $50 bill in my hand while I'm handing him my license and registration. ("Oops, my mistake, officer. That was supposed to be a hundred.") But I never argue with the police.

Of course, it's a free country, and others are entitled to their own policy vis-a-vis law enforcement. But I spent my formative years in Douglas County, Ga., when the mere name of Sheriff Earl Lee was enough to frighten even the most hardened criminal, and was an absolute terror to juvenile delinquents like me. When one of those Douglas County deputies showed up in his brown uniform, the time to argue was over. Run, yes. Argue, no.

Spending one's adolescence as a ... uh, freelance pharmaceutical distributor tends to teach the value of a non-confrontational approach toward the law-enforcement community. When you're a 15-year-old trafficking in felonious quantities of controlled substances, the last thing you want to do is get busted for a two-bit misdemeanor because you mouthed off at a cop.

It's all about personal perspective, I guess.

UPDATE: Matthew Vadum, one of the most respected young investigative journalists in Washington, posts a thoughtful comment:

You are probably right that in most situations one should not argue with law enforcement personnel, but does asking a sincere question of an officer when one doesn't know that she is possibly breaking a law constitute arguing with the police? . . . These officers appear to have exceeded their authority and their actions might give the arrested individual the right to sue the police force they work for. I know [Brooke], as you do, and can't imagine her defying an officer and persisting in a supposedly unlawful behavior after said officer has explained his concerns. What happened was wrong, plain and simple.

Of course, Mr. Vadum makes an important point here, and I would not dispute his judgment. I was merely relating the fact that I, due to my personal experience, am in the habit of trying to avoid confrontation with policemen. When such a confrontation accidentally occurs, my habit is to disengage as quickly as possible. So if a cop says, "Jump," I don't even pause to ask, "How high?"

These are my own personal habits, and I explained how and why they became ingrained in my personality. I did not say that the cops were right or the dancer was wrong, and I said nothing that might be prejudicial to any legal action. All I said was, as soon as a cop tells me to move along, I move along -- unless, of course, chivalry requires that I sacrifice myself to the dictates of honor.

SUGGESTION: Next time a flash mob plans to dance at a national monument, some advance preparation would help: Bring a couple dozen donuts for the cops.

Give a cop a Krispy Kreme, you can get away with murder. OK, maybe not literally murder, but at least dancing.

UPDATE II: Just got an e-mail from a guy who says he used to make the I-95 run smuggling illegal guns and cocaine from Miami to Philadelphia, and he questions my suggestion of Krispy Kremes:
Two words, dude: Dunkin' Donuts. Never saw a Jersey trooper who could resist
'em. We always used to stop at a Dunkin' Donuts down in Delaware and pick up a
dozen, just in case.
My correspondent is correct about the NJ trooper's known affinity for Dunkin' Donuts, but remember that I'm a native of Atlanta, and the Georgia State Patrol has always been partial to Krispy Kreme.

Now that the subject of regional differences in confectionary preference among law enforcement personnel has been introduced, I guess I might as well share my own discovery about Maryland State Police. MSP seem to be immune to either Dunkin' Donuts or Krispy Kreme. However, I was once running late for an important meeting in DC, and just happened to have with me a plate of my wife's homemade cinnamon rolls . . .

1 comment:

  1. You are probably right that in most situations one should not argue with law enforcement personnel, but does asking a sincere question of an officer when one doesn't know that she is possibly breaking a law constitute arguing with the police? If you did something that wasn't obviously illegal and a police officer told you to stop, wouldn't you want to know what law you were supposedly breaking that prompted the demand to cease and desist? Cops are supposed to defuse situations, not act high-handedly, and in such an ambiguous situation an arrest is supposed to be a last resort. The flash-mob dancers at the Jefferson Memorial weren't protesting anything, threatening anyone or anything, and weren't disturbing the peace. What they did did not seem to have been prohibited by posted signs at the site. These officers appear to have exceeded their authority and their actions might give the arrested individual the right to sue the police force they work for. I know her, as you do, and can't imagine her defying an officer and persisting in a supposedly unlawful behavior after said officer has explained his concerns. What happened was wrong, plain and simple.