I had company in town this weekend, so I missed the flash mob a few of my libertarian friends had planned to stage outside the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. The plan was to meet just before midnight with iPods on, dance quietly for a bit, capture the whole thing on video, and go home. Easy, peaceful, silly, and fun, right?
But apparently, things didn’t go as planned. A few minutes in, park police decided to arrest one of the revelers. Why? Well, it wasn’t immediately clear. Here’s Radley Balko reporting from the scene:
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.
I’ll post some video tomorrow morning of two flash mobbers who say she was doing nothing at all–she was barely even dancing. Her crime was apparently to ask “why?” when the park police told the group they had to disperse. Note too that this was at around midnight. No one was bumping into tourists, or obstructing anyone’s way. I guess the only conclusion, here, is that it’s apparently illegal to dance on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial–even with headphones.
Megan, Jason, and Julian also have accounts of the incident. Seems our friend was arrested simply for asking why she was being told to leave, leading Megan to write that the real problem is “that the police think that questioning orders constitutes disorderly conduct.” Agreed.
Now, unlike a lot of libertarians, I hold both police officers as people and police as an institution in pretty high esteem. And generally, I’m willing to cut them a lot of slack in their dealings with people; even on the easiest beat, it can be a pretty stressful job. But this sort of thing is incredibly off-putting, irritating, and probably, for the police involved and the larger public’s respect for cops in general, counterproductive – especially when, as Julian writes, the arrestee’s “immediate social circle is largely composed of journalists, bloggers, and constitutional lawyers who sue the government for fun.” And even when that’s not the case, camera phones and video cameras are pretty much everywhere these days – especially at public monuments – so the chances that the event will be captured and made public are pretty high.
But let’s ignore for a moment the fact that the crowd in question was composed largely of professional libertarians who’re bound to make a stink about this. I still wonder: What does an arresting officer in any circumstance like this possibly think he or she is going to accomplish? Give his buddies something to do for the night? Maybe he’s got a paperwork fetish? Just can’t wait to take the paddy wagon for a spin? My understanding has always been that arrests, in addition to being a pain for the person getting arrested, create a lot of additional work for the officers involved. It was a nice night out last night, perfect for strolling along the mall and relaxing. Is the menace of dancing libertarians really so great that it’s worth spending all night inside, filling out forms?
UPDATE: A video of the event is up (broken into a couple of pieces). Here’s the first one: