‘Don’t hang around this area.’
At a Romney event in New Hampshire on Monday, a Harvard Kennedy and Divinity School student named Matt Bieber was asked by two police officers to leave the premises because, as he writes on his blog, the police said that “the campaign has identified you as someone who was at a protest at Romney’s office in Manchester.” Bieber told the police that he didn’t even know there had been protests at Romney’s New Hampshire HQ. He asked to speak to someone from the campaign, but the police refused. He asked to speak to the owner of the venue. No. Not that it would have mattered: “The company had delegated authority to the campaign, and the campaign had authorized the police to remove anyone the campaign didn’t want present,” Bieber writes. After he asked the officers a few more questions, they had had enough. “You’re under arrest,” one of them said. They cuffed him, put him in the back of their police cruiser, took him to the police station, booked him, and put him in a cage.
An officer named Manni and another officer processed my paperwork. As they did so, they told me not to go back to “that area” when I was released. I indicated that I understood I wasn’t permitted to be on the company’s land or facilities, but surely I could go back to the street if I so chose – it’s public property, after all. Don’t go back to that area, they said. If you go back, you might cause a disturbance or a riot, and you could be arrested for disorderly conduct.
I tried to keep calm and ask even-keeled questions. Were they telling me I wasn’t even permitted in the street near the facility? And if so, on what grounds? I thought: I’m not planning on starting any trouble, but if I wanted to go and express myself by talking to the media about what had happened, wasn’t that my right?
And then the following exchange took place. I began to ask, “If I express my First Amendment freedoms –
And Officer Manni interjected, “You’ll probably be arrested.”
It was clear to me that the two officers had no interest in discussing what the law actually said, or what my rights actually entailed. I was paperwork, and they wanted to get it over with. I kept asking questions, and at one point, one of them opened up the New Hampshire legal code and read me the definition of disorderly conduct. He read the words dully, as if they were just syllables, with no interest at all in what they meant.
I asked the officer if he could help me connect what he’d just read with my situation and understand why it would be a problem to return to the street outside the event. He told me that I might return and say things that “aren’t what others think.”
Live free or die.