The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU professor Susanne Scholz in the West Bank in 2018.
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Sara Hummadi, Video Editor • May 18, 2024
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Florida taser incident still resonating on campus

Law enforcement is said to exist to serve and protect the people. A recent incident at the University of Florida involving student Andrew Meyer, who was dragged out of a campus forum for U.S. Senator John Kerry, has left students, faculty and police officials at SMU defending their positions in the latest campus clash of free speech rights and the alleged use of excessive force by law enforcement.

Depending on those asked, Meyer’s incident is seen as either a student’s First Amendment rights being blatantly violated or campus police simply doing their job by removing an unruly student from a university forum.

“I definitely think he crossed the line, but I think the police crossed the line even further,” Student Body Vice President Bethany Peters said. “You cannot control what students are going to say – especially in a political environment – but you can control what the police department does.”

The SMU and University Park police departments do not utilize the taser as part of their force continuum. Instead, they employ a range of deterrents “from mere presence and verbal commands to collapsible batons, chemical agents and ultimately deadly force” to protect themselves and others during a disturbance, University Park Police Capt. Leon Holman said.

Belo Distinguished Chair of Journalism Tony Pederson disagrees with the University of Florida Police Department’s decision to use the taser, but also felt that the student was out of line.

“Although everybody has a right to speak, there is no right to be disruptive to that extent,” Pederson said. “It did seem to me that it was his intent to be more disruptive than to really communicate.”

SMU Police Chief Richard Shafer could not recall an arrest being made at a Tate Lecture Series or any other speaking event on campus in the last eight years.

“Sure there have been heated discussions, which you expect, but most of it has been in good spirits,” Shafer said.

Dr. David Sedman, associate professor and director of technology of the Meadows School of the Arts, recognized that a line does exist between civil disobedience and narcissistic speech.

“While both are clearly protected by the First Amendment, the person who is simply calling attention to him or herself can go too far in the manner of their speech and become a nuisance,” Sedman said.

Sedman also pointed out what is important to remember in this case.

“What they’re saying isn’t really at issue; rather it’s the manner in which they say it,” he said.

Students, faculty and police officials on campus believed it important to note both that the situation in Florida could have had a much worse ending and much can be learned from the incident to prevent something similar from happening at SMU.

“It’s extremely important to say what you want to say, but do it in a tactful manner, with respect,” Peters said. “If the police had not gone about it the way they did, the kid would’ve looked like the idiot.”

Pederson also said that universities, by their nature, must be forums for free speech and debate, but “certainly law enforcement could have dealt with it another way.”

The video of the incident, Shafer said, clearly showed uniformed officers flanking Meyer at the podium, and, only after he continued to resist arrest, were the officers forced “to gain compliance,” since Meyer “wouldn’t cooperate nor obey their commands.”

“I’m sure he didn’t feel too well afterward, maybe a headache, but at least there was no permanent damage,” Shafer said.

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