Taser Incident Sparks Uproar

YouTube is once again at the center of a political and cultural firestorm, as video of a University of Florida student being tasered at a Senator John Kerry speaking event is the must-see video of the moment.

The story so far is that 21-year-old Andrew Meyer came up to an audience mike to ask Sen. Kerry a series of questions about impeaching President Bush and whether or not they were both members of the Skull and Bones society at Yale. After he had been carrying on for a few minutes, the University of Florida Police forcefully grab Meyer to remove him from the room. There’s a scuffle and Meyer is brought to the ground, shouting, “Don’t tase me, bro!” Screams of pain follow. You can read a detailed account of the story over at the Associated Press.

Since this isn’t a political blog, let’s set aside the bigger issues of free speech and police brutality. What interests us is how standard this method of newsgathering has become, and also the way this video technology can cut both ways.

This isn’t the first time a university cop tasering a student has been caught on video and posted online; the UCLA student incident back in 2006 achieved similar notoriety. Sadly, seeing shaky camera footage of a tasering is not new. But at least such events aren’t sequestered out of the public eye.

And even the aspect of putting it on YouTube has become par for the course. Of course it’s there. What else would you do with it? Put it in a manila envelope and send it to your local paper? This isn’t the fifties. Or even the nineties.

What’s also not surprising is that Andrew Meyer has his own homepage. Beneath the bold headline organizing a protest march at the university, there is a link to the incident’s Facebook page, where people are called on to participate in the “Don’t Tase Me, Bro! March Against Police Brutality.” It’s not hard to imagine “Don’t tase me, bro!” becoming the next “I Can Has Cheezburger?”-like meme and carrying on a life of its own independent of Meyer.

He’s part of a generation that grew up encouraged to document everything about themselves and share it with the world. Once a part of the online cultural machine, he’s now an object of it. His prior life online is now investigated and passed around. The Associated Press reports:

Meyer has his own Web site and it contains several “comedy” videos that he appears in. In one, he stands in a street with a sign that says “Harry Dies” after the latest Harry Potter book was released. In another, he acts like a drunk while trying to pick up a woman in a bar.

I couldn’t find the Harry Potter vid on the site, and the video of the drunk I saw didn’t have any credits, so I can’t confirm this (but Meyer is hawking a “pimp lamp” on the site.) Does the fact that Meyer likes acting in skits make him a bad person, or excuse the brutality he suffered? Of course not. But now what he shared prior to the incident is included as part of the reported story. There is less mystery around Andrew Meyer. With so many concrete details so available, he can’t portray himself as just “anyone.”

Of course, Sen. Kerry doesn’t come off without his own YouTube scar. If you watch the video, you can hear him, still up on stage, half-heartedly imploring the security team to let Meyer ask his question. Not very commanding for a would-be commander-in-chief.