Dancing fools

I was very sorry to be missing this, as I'm out of DC for the weekend, but not as sorry as I am now--someone just got arrested.

The background: twenty people were at the Jefferson Memorial, dancing to the private groove of their own iPods so as not to disturb anyone. Apparently cops showed up and ordered them to disperse anyway, despite the fact that they were not doing anything obviously illegal. One of the libertarians joyfully (yet tastefully and quietly) celebrating the birthday of a favorite founding father questioned why they should have to move along--at which point one of DC's finest shoved them up against a pillar, cuffed their hands behind their back, and hauled them away.

As a resident of DC, I'm certainly overjoyed to hear that violent crime has fallen to a level where we can spare valuable police resources to fight the silent scourge of . . . dancing. Now that we have no more murders or muggings, it seems to me that we should also be looking at newsboys who smoke, women who attend the theater, and of course, the iniquitous habit of playing cards on the sabbath.

Update Julian Sanchez has more.

I wasn’t aware dancing at a public monument was prohibited by any statute—but given that my friend’s immediate social circle is largely composed of journalists, bloggers, and constitutional lawyers who sue the government for fun, I predict hilarity.

Rule #1 of things like this: know who you're dealing with. Of course, respect for one's civil rights should not be predicated on happening to know a lot of troublemakers with podiums.

Update II Jason Talley offers his account:

First I’d like to make a few things clear. We decided to use iPods to be respectful of other people’s experience at the Jefferson Memorial. No music was heard by anyone other than those wearing headphones. We chose midnight so that we wouldn’t disturb anyone. There were about six other people there that were not with us or the police. If you were one of these people I’d like to hear from you to get your account of what happened.

Perhaps six minutes into the event, security tried to stop us and kick us out of the memorial. Most of the Jefferson fans questioned the officers to try to understand what authority they citing to use force against us. Unfortunately I wasn’t near the “Jefferson 1” so I can’t tell you what she did or didn’t do but she was hauled away, handcuffed, in a police van and charged with disorderly conduct.

So in the 2008 version of the USA you cannot dance at the Jefferson Memorial without being disorderly it seems.

Radley Balko has a similar story.

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.

As Julian notes, the problem here is not that one of my friends, an educated white girl, had to spend five hours or so being harassed by the police. It is that the police think that questioning orders constitutes disorderly conduct. And that the result of questioning them is probably a lot more than moderate harassment when the questioner is not an educated white girl with a lot of camera toting friends.

Update III More from Peter Suderman.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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