U. Florida Police Learned Lesson From Tasergate

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By Vincent Gagliano
Independent Florida Alligator
University of Florida

GAINESVILLE, Fla.—With one day before break, we have a lot to be thankful for. But with Monday's speech at the University of Florida, one thing that is fairly low-key tops my list.

Thank goodness we didn't have a worse incident at former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' speech. There were more protesters. They caused a ruckus. A sense of impending catastrophe was in the air. Sound familiar?

Except this time, the ending was different. No Tasers, no iconic quotes and no committees on the lawful use of police force.

Other circumstances made the officers' handling of the scenario even more remarkable. The speaker was not a presidential candidate but a government official disgraced for his disputed firing of U.S. attorneys. The potential for trouble was greater given what he did in office.

It seems the University Police Department has learned from its mistakes. The massive outcry against Tasergate prompted campus security to rethink how it uses force to restrain combative people. Hopefully, UPD will keep its new mindset in the years to come—don't blame police for not listening to angry students.

One of the most common complaints from the Kerry forum was the way UPD restrained Andrew Meyer. Many people wondered, "Why couldn't they just subdue him and remove him from the room? They didn't really need to Taser him." That's precisely what UPD did when Richard Gutierrez and Kevin Hachey ascended the stage.

Even the protesters were better behaved the second time around. Sure, they were unhappy with some of the things Gonzales did in office, but they were more civil in expressing their message. Among the group, there was a noticeable lack of vulgar language. Most complied with the officers throughout the event.

UPD knew what most of the protesters had planned and avoided confronting them. The police correctly avoided interfering with the protesters' First Amendment rights. UF spokesman Steve Orlando acknowledged that the event was an overall success. It was a more peaceful event the second time around. This is good news, given Jack Kevorkian's speech in the spring, which was delayed because UF feared students would follow Meyer's example in the wake of Sen. John Kerry's forum.

It's much easier to focus on what happened Tuesday than what did not. But doing so ignores the lessons learned from September's incident. Without Meyer's misbehavior, yesterday might have been a lot worse.

Have a happy Thanksgiving and enjoy the UF-Florida State University game.

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