Here's how I see Andrew Meyer's behavior in the University of Florida tasering incident. This doesn't take into account Meyer's possible behavior before the video I've seen (so the question of how he got to the microphone, and his behavior prior to his "questions" aren't part of the analogy, though I still think that behavior is critical to understanding the police reaction), and it does involve some speculation. And it involves a bit of humor (I hope). Let me know where I may be straying from the situation in this analogy.
Say you’re a customer at Target. You’ve bought a widget, and the damned widget doesn’t widge. So now you go to Target to return or exchange your widget, because you still have a bunch of widging that needs to be done and you can't widge with the widget you've bought.
Unfortunately, it’s after work, and you had to work late today. You don’t get to Target until eight and they close at nine (I don’t know if that’s the case—I’m pretending). When you walk inside you see that the line at the return counter is ridiculously long. Like the day after Christmas, it seems everyone and his brother needs to return something.
So you get in line and you watch the line shorten much more slowly than you’d like, while your watch seems to have found a turbo gear. You’re getting antsy that you’re not going to get to return your widget before they close. A woman tries to return a thingamajig that she bought at Wal-Mart, and it’s kind of like the thingamajig Target sells, and she can’t understand why the woman behind the counter won’t just take it. Another guy can’t find his receipt, and he’s holding up the line while he searches for it. Another old couple—so old their oxygen tanks need oxygen tanks—struggle to understand the situation the customer service peon is presenting them with. This is all ridiculous. You could be in and out of here quick as hell if it weren’t for all of these cretins.
Then, finally, you’re second in line. Almost your turn.
And the woman at the counter says, “Sorry, we’re closed. Come back tomorrow.”
Maybe you understand on some level that the store needs to close at a specific time. Maybe you vaguely understand that you just came up unlucky, that you’ll have to come back another day.
But maybe you want them to bend the rules for you. You say, “I’ve been standing in this line for an hour. You’re here to take returns, and I have a right to have my widget returned.”
And while it's true they had been there to take returns, they no longer are. But the woman behind the counter takes pity on you and says, “Okay, come on,”—the customer ahead of you just left when they said the store was closing, and there aren't any other customers around—“I’ll return your widget.”
So you walk up to the counter, and instead of handing the woman your widget, you say, “I’m going to preface my return, and then I’ll offer you my widget for returning.” The woman is irritated, but she doesn’t shut you off, even though she’d be within company policy to do so. So you start by endorsing a book you read, and then you offer some opinions on the rankings of investigative journalists in America. And then, rather than handing the woman your widget, you start shoving all kinds of products onto the counter. A whatchamacallit, a thingamajig, a gewgaw, and you’re reaching for more.
At this point the security guard grabs you by the arm. “You need to leave now.”
But you haven’t even gotten to your widget. Damn. You push the security guard away and try to continue your return, but the security guard grabs you again. You break away. Now there are three security guards around you, and you’re screwed. You’re leaving, whether you want to or not. But you have a right to return your widget! The company’s policy says so! Your rights as a consumer are being violated!
And you continue to thrash and resist. The security guards try to keep you immobilized, but you won't stop thrashing.
"Don't tase me, bro," you say.
You know if you stop struggling you won't get hit with the TASER, but for some reason you decide to keep struggling. You keep it up until they handcuff you and taser you.
My point is this: Meyer was acting within a context. Shouting "free speech" and "civil rights" without context is like saying Jeffrey Dahmer was an inventive chef. We already know the cliché exceptions to the right of free speech, like yelling "fire" in a crowded theater, so there's no point covering that. Free speech isn't absolute or universal. I would argue that it's situational beyond those hard boundaries as well. Sometimes, no matter how much you want to yap, you need to shut up. Not because you're wrong, but because you're in the wrong situation.
In another post I'll discuss what I see as the differences between Meyer's tasering and the Kent State shootings.