It is hard for me to put into words the extent to which the whirlwind of the past week has dominated my life. I still feel like I could wake up any moment, breathe a sigh of relief and this awful dream will have finally ended. Although I am flattered and humbled by the amount of support I have received from students, faculty and the public, it has been difficult to cope with being thrust into such a sudden spotlight. All the attention has taken a toll not only on me, but my family and friends, whose lives have been similarly turned upside down. I do not know if I could have made it to this point without the support of my parents, who have been with me every step of the way, and my girlfriend, who is always at my side. I am grateful to political science Professor Miriam Lowi for her comfort and empathy in this trying time.
Since Feb. 18, newspapers and television stations have interviewed me. I have seen my name chalked across campus. I spoke on a radio show with an audience of three million listeners. This is not how I wanted to make a name for myself.
When I entered the lecture that evening, to say that all of this was unfathomable would be an understatement. Even when I got on the book-signing line, my intentions were benign. I was going to introduce myself to Ann Coulter, and perhaps ask a brief follow-up question. It is true that, like other people behind me on line, I did not have a book.
I cannot help but replay in my mind the subsequent series of events over and over again, and I find myself questioning my motives and character. But I can conclude I was never a threat to Coulter or anyone in attendance.
However, it would be disingenuous to deny any blame in what happened next. I realize in hindsight that I should have been more sensitive to the security situation, and that the officers on duty were likely on edge due to the controversial nature of that evening’s event. A columnist in last week’s issue of The Signal rightly suggested that as I look for accountability, I should look in the mirror. I have looked in the mirror, and I accept responsibility for my actions. I would hope the other parties involved would do the same.
Let me stress that I have nothing against police officers. Most of them are good people with a difficult job to do who often find themselves in precarious situations. Similarly, I found myself in a precarious situation that night, and had about five seconds to react.
Should I have left when the officer told me, “You’re outta here,” and started muscling me toward the exit? Probably. Should the officer have physically escalated the situation, instead of simply telling me to leave? I would argue no. Still, both the officers and I are human beings, and sometime instinct takes the place of rationality.
When I was on the ground after being tackled, the video of the altercation shows my screams of distress. Looking back, was my volume completely necessary? I can’t say for sure, but they were screams of shock as much as they were of pain. I still have the remnants of an abrasion on my head to prove it. An officer knelt on my face and applied his full body weight, which is completely consistent with every account of the story I have made. People will have to decide for themselves whether or not that degree of force was warranted.
All of this is a completely separate issue from how I was treated after being put into custody. More than a week later, my wrists are still bruised from the tightness of the handcuffs. I don’t know if that is standard police procedure, but I would hope not.
More disturbingly, the officers seemed to find enjoyment in humiliating me at every turn. Aside from the shocking vulgarities that were used, every other aspect of the arrest suggested a kind of morbid delight in making sure I was as demoralized and uncomfortable as possible. I was mocked and jibed at every opportunity.
Early in the arrest, my glasses fell off. Throughout the entire time in the police car and station, I asked for them, but was refused. This rendered me effectively blind. The officers seemed to take pleasure in the fact that I could not see.
As I sat in a detainment room, I requested that my handcuffs be removed because they were painful and I did not feel I posed a security threat. An officer agreed to do so and left the room, coming back a few moments later with what appeared to be a key. He told me to move over on the bench, and I thought he was going to unlock the cuffs. Instead, he chained them to a metal loop on the bench, laughed and left the room. A moment later, I heard other officers laughing with him. This is certainly not the professional conduct we would expect from people in positions of authority, especially people we entrust with our safety and our tax and tuition dollars.
Let me make clear that I do not contend I was “brutalized.” I have shied away from using that term whenever asked because using it would be an insult to those who have been brutalized. I do not put myself on that level, and I would encourage others to follow suit when describing my situation. This ordeal has taken on a life of its own, and the rhetoric on both sides is in many ways beyond my control.
I respect those who have differing opinions regarding my actions. Throughout all of this, I have emphasized that I do not wish to make this a divisive issue, nor a partisan one. That is why, in addition to requesting that the charge against me be dropped, I have proposed an outcome that will serve a cause greater than myself. From it, I would see no personal fortune or fame.
I propose the creation of a student-police review board. This board would serve as an independent, investigative body, taking student concerns regarding police actions and recommending appropriate steps to rectify those concerns. Students serving on this board would be elected by their peers.
The current compliant process is a tedious, time-consuming exercise. Students cannot trust that a truly impartial review will be conducted if the police department itself oversees that review. And the process can often take months without anything ever actually being done.
Cities like New York have a similar review board in place. There is no reason something of this nature could not be instituted at the College, which could hopefully serve as a model for other schools that have had problems with police conduct. Such a board would have been a good idea even if my incident had never occurred. Many people have stories of being treated by officers in questionable ways, and I hope this board could reduce the frequency such instances.
All of this should be done in the name of fostering a better relationship between police and students, which is strained. A better relationship would mean a healthier and more open campus community. Such an improvement would benefit everyone – students and police alike.
My intention at this time is not to file a lawsuit, nor do anything else that would perpetuate the cycle of media exposure. What I most want is a return to normalcy, or whatever sense of normalcy is possible at this point. In the aftermath of what happened, my academic life has taken a backseat. I am at College to study and advance myself, not to become embroiled in these tiring controversies.
Again, I appreciate your support, as well as your criticism. I hope regardless of where you stand on this issue that you will join me in moving on from the name-calling and bickering of days passed and focus on the future. With your help, something good can come from all of this.
Vice President of the College Democrats