Tonight, a group of about 20 D.C.-area libertarians headed down to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial for some flash mob fun. The prank was harmless revelry: To ring in Jefferson’s birthday, we would meet on the steps of the memorial at 11:55pm, wearing iPods, then dance for about 10 minutes, capture the whole thing on video, and leave.
Courtney and I were about 10 minutes late, but by the time we arrived it was already over. The National Park Police broke the whole thing up just a few minutes in, punctuating their lack of a sense of humor by arresting one of the dancers (we’re keeping her name private at least until she’s released later this morning). She was cuffed, taken out to a paddy wagon, then booked and held at a Park Police station. Everyone I spoke with says there was no noise, there were no threats, and no laws broken (the park police I spoke with–including the arresting officer (who, oddly enough, denied to me that he was the arresting officer)–declined to say why she had been arrested).
The police refused to answer any questions, referring all calls to the communication number of the Park Police, which at this hour is closed. They also refused to give their badge numbers.
I’ll post some video tomorrow morning of two flash mobbers who say she was doing nothing at all–she was barely even dancing. Her crime was apparently to ask “why?” when the park police told the group they had to disperse. Note too that this was at around midnight. No one was bumping into tourists, or obstructing anyone’s way. I guess the only conclusion, here, is that it’s apparently illegal to dance on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial–even with headphones. You know, post 9-11 world and all. Harmless fun will be interpreted in the most threatening context imaginable. Whimsy and frivolity will not be tolerated.
Of course, the real irony here is that all of this happened at the Jefferson Memorial, in observance of Jefferson’s birthday. Go out to celebrate the birth of the most hardcore, anti-authoritarian of the Founding Fathers, get hauled off in handcuffs. The photo’s almost poetry, isn’t it? One of history’s most articulate critics of abuse of state authority looks on as a park police cop uses his elbow to push a female arrestee into one of said critic’s memorial pillars.
The people I spoke with say the other officer pictured in the foreground of this photo told the rest of the group to “shut the fuck up.” When one person politely asked why it was unnecessary to use the word “fuck,” the officer replied that if the guy who asked the question used any more profanity, he too would find himself arrested.
MORE: Sheesh. If you’re curious as to how we could be at the point where dancing is cause for arrest, read some of the comments at Megan McArdle’s site (link above). I guess an unlawful arrest is fine so long as the arrestee is upper class, privileged, and/or libertarian (because she’s probably a pot-smoker and/or illegal downloader, anyway!).