During the question and answer session that followed a speech by Ann Coulter at the University of Texas at Austin, Ajai Raj waited in line, and when his turn arose, he asked a question. In regard to Coulter’s bizarre defense of the “sanctity of marriage,” Raj asked, “How do you feel about marriages where the man does nothing but fuck his wife up the ass?” Raj promptly abandonded the microphone and left Coulter with her brittle lips agape, her long, polished hair flapping in the path of the air conditioner. As he triumphantly and righteously made his way down the aisle toward the auditorium’s exit, signaling to his friends that it was time to go, he made gestures “simulating masturbation,” according to the police report. For this he was promptly grabbed by two police officers, slammed into a wall, arrested, and charged with Disorderly Conduct.
The incident has since gained widespread local and national attention. Ann Coulter has appeared on the usual right-wing talk shows to denounce Raj in absentia, without any hope of a rebuttal. Running the gamut of the neo-fascist right’s playbook, she shamelessly extrapolated Raj’s actions and described them as indicative of all “Liberals”-codeword for anyone who disagrees with her. To those taking Coulter’s words to heart it must have seemed as if Raj had been acting on marching orders from Howard Dean or MoveOn.org. Heavily edited video of the protesters railing against the police who detained Raj has appeared on both the local news and the aforementioned right-wing scream fests. Though cameras were present and ON during the entirety of Raj’s illegal detention, the video has been cut. Cut for time. Cut for content. Cut to make it seem as if Raj’s support was miniscule. The usual.
Many blogs and news sites on the Internets are obviously paying quite a bit of attention to the whole Coulter/Arrest fiasco, devoting a modest amount of bandwidth to say the least. Raj’s inbox is probably hemorrhaging at this very moment.
The charge was Disorderly Conduct (Arrest affidavit ) which is a Class C Misdemeanor and in the state of Texas, is to be punished by a fine not to exceed $500. Fines can be avoided and charges essentially dropped and cleared by up to 180 days of Deferred Disposition. It is also worth noting that Class C Misdemeanors are crimes that are not to result in confinement.
If a person is charged with a Class C Misdemeanor in the state of Texas they are not to suffer incarceration.
Ajai Raj, for following Ann Coulter’s direct request to ask her a question, did exactly that and was arrested for a non-arrestable offense and charged with Disorderly Conduct. His arrest and silencing done not only in contravention of his first amendment rights, but also state and local laws as well it seems.
Curiously enough, by arresting Raj for exercising his right to freedom of speech as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America, the arresting officers engaged in a federal crime. Under Title 18, U.S.C., Section 242: it is a punishable offense “to willfully deprive or cause to be deprived from any person those rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution and laws of the U.S.”
Quite simply put: Ajai Raj was deprived of his civil rights under the “color of law.”
So, add contravention to Federal Civil Rights Law to the list.
I would like to invite those moderate, capital-L Liberals and their smirking, authoritative counterparts on the right who cheered Raj’s arrest with their decisive cries of “serves him right!” to answer the following question: Do you think that Ajai Raj would have been arrested had his words not been directed at a well-known political personality, in front of a large crowd that roared with approval and laughter at every hateful and incisive snipe she made at her opponents?
Let me save the fatherly patrons, holders of all pragmatic and realistic wisdom the effort. The answer is no.
It was not the “children under the age of ten,” who attended Coulter’s “lecture” that sealed Raj’s fate as implied by the police report. It was not that Raj “incited an immediate breach of peace within the crowd,” as the police report firmly –and without a modicum of truth to back up such an assessment– attests. (In fact, Raj’s question all but silenced the auditorium, effectively bringing peace where there was once only the rehearsed hatespeech of a neo-fascist, GOP shill.) No, it frighteningly comes down to something more. Something wholly undemocratic and completely at odds with the founding principles and documents of the United States of America that at least spoke of freedom, liberty, justice and all that.
It comes down to the suppression of dissent under the pretext of disturbing the peace, as I noted previously. The catch-all charge of Disorderly Conduct was thrown at Raj simply because there was nothing else to fit his alleged crime. Campuses are supposed to be one of the foremost bastions of freedom of speech, baptised in the blood of many a student activist killed by the functionaries of the state. The portion of the event during which his question was posed came during a time where the concept of “open dialogue,” was at the very least understood and implied. He did nothing to interrupt debate or stifle Coulter’s own right to speech. He waited his turn and opened his mouth. When he did he said what some people considered the wrong thing to say. He dissented with courage and anger. He uttered taboo. Tom Paine is perpetually spinning in his grave, but this incident gave him one more little push.
A person who stood up to Coulter and engaged her on her own terms had to be forcibly and visibly shut-down, first and foremost. Rationale, justification, the law only came second. For having the audacity to attack Coulter with his words the same way that Coulter attacks anyone to the left of Augusto Pinochet, Raj was handcuffed and silenced, made an example of. The message was perfectly clear: “We had this kind of stuff back in the 60s, and it ain’t gonna happen again.”
Raj’s question was crude. No doubt. But who hasn’t heard such things? (Better yet, who has heard them used to such great effect against such a mind-bogglingly awful person?) Some have told me that he could have used different words and gotten the same point across. Some have said that he shouldn’t have made the gestures that he did. Some have said he should have asked an equally damning question of Coulter. All of this is immaterial. Whether Ajai Raj chose his words and actions wisely should not be the concern of anyone in favor of justice. Raj himself poses the real question quite clearly in his open reply:
“Did I deserve to be arrested? Did the cops need to rough me up for saying bad words at what was at least masquerading as an open dialogue? Do the people of Texas- hell, of America- feel that “potty mouth” belongs on the list of punishable crimes along with “aggravated assault” and “armed robbery”?”
Well, did he deserve to be thrown into a squad car for saying something that caused no amount of disorder?
Did the cops need to use any amount of force on Raj at all?
Do we really feel that saying naughty words should be grounds for confinement?
And, whither disorder?
Ajai Raj was arrested and detained for engaging in conduct that was deemed disorderly, when in truth the disorder only came after Raj was manhandled and deprived of his basic, fundamental rights by way of detention.
Apparently using the two words that he did in conjunction was more offensive than Coulter’s own ridicule of a homosexual conservative who posed her a genuinely concerned question to which she replied, “I usually get that one from the girls.”
Apparently Raj’s question was more incendiary than Coulter’s repeated calls for bodily harm to be inflicted upon liberals.
So, Raj’s conduct was “abusive, profane, and vulgar,” in the eyes of the almighty arbiters of justice we call police officers. And what conduct was that? Saying two whole swear words? And in front of children, no less! (Though YHWH only knows what kind of parents would bring their children to see such a speaker.) Obviously the profanity and vulgarity of Coulter’s abusive and jugular attacks on immigrants, Arabs, homosexuals and everyone else she dislikes must have escaped those officers who think keeping the peace is akin to slamming harmless kids down on the pavement.
I have received quite a few denunciations for my unfounded “generalization[s]” regarding the police force. Oppositely, I have received a comparable number of responses denouncing the “corruption” of police officers in general. I believe that both types of comments stem from a basic misunderstanding of my tangential conclusion to the previous article.
I was not making a generalization about police officers. I was simply regurgitating theory.
If it seemed that my comments about cops were a blanket characterization, then I apologize for not making clear my argument.
Many, if not most, police officers at least start out as honest, hardworking people. Whether or not they get hardened and corrupt as years go by is another story. By stating that police serve power and not the people, I was not offering any type of judgment on the way that police officers perform their jobs. When I said that police were duty bound, I was trying to speak their language, to appeal to them, to naive principles of justice being served by state officials. I was reaching out to a higher power that exists in name only.
I do not believe that the curtailment of rights such as that recently happened at the University of Texas to be due to any sort of general corruption. The officers were not fueled purely by machismo. Nor were they purely driven by any sort of Napoleon complex. It is just business as usual. The status quo. Society. Whatever you want to call it, police are there for that reason only. Police are not and never have been in force to protect individuals or communities, have a hand in serving justice, or even to uphold laws.
Their function is to protect property and preserve power. I of course do not think that individual police officers think too much about this if they do at all, nor do I think that they are bad people. Many do engage in great, heroic activities, granted. But, their overall function is what Michael Parenti has termed “System sustaining.” Police are there to protect a system. That system is controlled by the powerful.
I was not generalizing on this one experience. My previous conclusion was no unwarranted extrapolation. I just used this event as a particularly deplorable and telling jumping off point. Historically; in the recent past and in dusty history texts it is the same old, ugly story. There is a systemic function that police serve. That function is the preservation of power.
Title 18, U.S.C., Section 242
Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law
This statute makes it a crime for any person acting under color of law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom to willfully deprive or cause to be deprived from any person those rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution and laws of the U.S.
This law further prohibits a person acting under color of law, statute, ordinance, regulation or custom to willfully subject or cause to be subjected any person to different punishments, pains, or penalties, than those prescribed for punishment of citizens on account of such person being an alien or by reason of his/her color or race.
Acts under “color of any law” include acts not only done by federal, state, or local officials within the bounds or limits of their lawful authority, but also acts done without and beyond the bounds of their lawful authority; provided that, in order for unlawful acts of any official to be done under “color of any law,” the unlawful acts must be done while such official is purporting or pretending to act in the performance of his/her official duties. This definition includes, in addition to law enforcement officials, individuals such as Mayors, Council persons, Judges, Nursing Home Proprietors, Security Guards, etc., persons who are bound by laws, statutes ordinances, or customs.
Punishment varies from a fine or imprisonment of up to one year, or both, and if bodily injury results or if such acts include the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire shall be fined or imprisoned up to ten years or both, and if death results, or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.
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