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I had arrived late to hear Ann Coulter speak, ironically, in the LBJ Auditorium at the University of Texas at Austin where I am currently enrolled as a journalism undergraduate. I was, however, right in time for the question and answer session which I knew was going to be interesting.
It’s good to get angry every once in awhile, or so goes the adage. I have never read any of her books but I watch enough MSNBC and am familiar with her more horrendous quotes, so I figured I would be able to store up enough anger to last me for quite some time. Little did I know…
Just coming from the last official Amnesty International meeting of the year, in my newly established position as publicity coordinator, I was filled with a sense of hope, community, faith in humanity and good, honest people ready to work, strike and fight for the cause of Human Rights.
Needless to say those hopes were all but smashed after about 35 seconds of listening to Coulter speak. But, what really got me was the applause.
Deep in the Heart of Texas is just about the only place in this expansive red state that anyone with a more liberally-inclined disposition is remotely welcome. Travis County did vote overwhelmingly for Kerry, after all. So, of course it was very frustrating to hear roars of laughter and the droning cheers of most of the audience in response to Coulter’s description of the Middle East as a “swamp” or her call for “Conservative women” to perform their traditional roles in the home as a means of furthering the conservative movement. These people would be better suited at a Night Rally.
There were a few rational and compassionate individuals with political philosophies that amount to more than a series of cheap one-liners in the audience but hardly as many as there should have been at a University. For an institution that prides itself on truth and is purported to be overrun by liberalism, it sure didn’t seem that way tonight. The only consolation I could rationalize was that most people just shrug Coulter off as the far-right lunatic that she is. That they don’t give her the time of day, and definitely not time out of theirs to acknowledge her presence by protesting and asking tough questions for her to dodge. But, it struck me as outright contemptible for Ann Coulter to be speaking at my campus as part of the same “lecture” series that features such speakers as the Dali Lama and Paul Rusesabagina, the inspiration for the film Hotel Rwanda.
So, we were a minority vocally enduring Coulter’s homophobic, racist, sexist, fundamentalist Christian brand of hatred–fascist propaganda by another name. We sat through every ducked question shouting for her to answer. We shook our heads, sighed, and externalized our consternation through various hand gestures and motions. We sarcastically laughed and gasped at every attempt she made to distort the question asked into something that painted the questioner as an incomprehensible, inaccurate idiot-there were three. We shouted back in anger at every question shrugged away with mere character asssassination-there were too many to count.
My blood boiled a bit. Less masochistic progressives had enough and stormed out at various times. Coulter herself threatened to leave on two occasions for all the heckling. One man was cut off at the microphone for denouncing Coulter’s McCarthyist bent. And, then, one of us had had enough.
It was in response to Coulter’s bizarre explanation that marriage was in place not to “make people happy,” but to further an outright incomprehensible notion of some type of patriarchal system that she wasn’t able to articulate very well (she mentioned something about men caring for women uber alles, but offered little more of substance) and eventually abandoned to get to her point that gay marriage is evil. It was after this that a question was posed “What about marriages where men just fuck their wife the ass?”
Some in the audience laughed. Some quite probably rolled their eyes. I myself was a bit taken aback and left wondering if the questioner couldn’t have expressed himself differently before he sauntered away from the microphone.
And, then, I heard a cry: “Hey! What are you doing? Let him go!”
The police (who were there in full force that evening to protect Coulter from the fatal threat of banana creme) had taken the questioner by the arms when he attempted to leave the auditorium after signaling to his friends that he was leaving. Two officers grabbed him and with an undeniably excessive amount of force pushed him out of the very same auditorium that he was exiting on his own.
I immediately jumped out of my seat in the back and was near the front of a crowd of 20 or 30 students and activists that were shouting “LET HIM GO!” at the two police officers, only one of which whose name and badge number I remembered-Gabriel 427. We rushed out of the auditorium following the man who was being detained for exercising his first amendment right and surrounded the officers, all the while shouting and attempting to un-arrest our newly discovered friend.
He was eventually led out of the building, with the crowd right behind. We were more enraged and vocal about his detention than he himself. He did not resist arrest in the slightest.
They led him around to the back of a van where he was pinned face down on the cold, dirty concrete, away from the eyes of his concerned compatriots and the lens of the television camera that arrived. What they did to him for the five minutes that he was isolated from the rest of us is a mystery.
We demanded that the officers explain what he was being charged with. None of them replied. We asked politely. They stood steadfast. We threatened bad press and lawsuits with professors at our side. They didn’t flinch. We asked them who they were serving and protecting by arresting an invited, ticket-holding guest, who was told to ask a question and then did. They didn’t have an answer.
He was eventually put into the back of a squad car and driven away. We followed as far as we were allowed by the suddenly vocal police officers. Following us was the local CBS affiliate’s camera crew.
At one point I explained to an officer that his action this evening was in direct contravention of the freedoms supposedly granted to all in the United States of America. I told him that he was duty bound to respect law and order and that by arresting someone who had acted in accord with the Constitution of the United States of America, he had abrogated those very same principles. I stood directly in front of him, stopping his stride and asked to his face who he was protecting and serving by arresting a man who had not broken any laws.
He walked on by.
Others asked how the police officers were able to sleep at night.
I hope to god that they cannot.
I severely hope that they understand that they are merely agents of oppression, not the people.
I want each and every one of those order-following, faceless, inhumane, automata to realize that they are guilty of nothing less than the political suppression of a dissident and would look far more apropos dressed in brown instead of blue.
There is no freedom of speech in the United States of America. Unorthodox opinions and words that conservatives find naughty are pretexts for stifling dissent. Stifled by force. No questions asked. If they are, then there are no answers.
We live in a police state. Miniscule goons that are lacking moral compasses and who are equipped with badges and guns are able to break the law and incapacitate people without probable cause or any charge that will hold up in court.
For simply causing a conservative hate-monger to choke in mid-air, these blue-shirts are able to act completely contrary to the laws and rights granted in the foundation, the bedrock of our democracy.
The police do not serve me.
The police do not serve you.
They are not there to serve and protect.
They are not there to uphold law and order.
The police are not agents of the people.
They are agents of power.
COLIN KALMBACHER is publicity coordinator for Amnesty International at UT Austin and a former reporter for The Daily Texan. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org