US Park Rangers at Their Finest, Rough-Up and Arrest Folks at Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Originally seen here, I’m glad that the US Park Service Rangers have nothing better to do than tell protestors to shut-up or lock-up at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial (watch the video linked above). According to RIA Novosti news here, a RT American (Russian TV network) anchor and other people were arrested for silently dancing at the Jefferson Memorial after a district court ruled dancing illegal there. These protest dancers are reacting to the court’s decision against Mary Oberwetter, who was the only person arrested from a flash dance mob at the Jefferson Memorial in April 2008 [more details here]. The court ruled that it was the duty of the Park Rangers to be decorum enforcement.

If you watch shows like Jail, Campus PD, or Cops, you probably know that the police often react unfavorably to confrontations with or questioning of their authority to do whatever it is that they do. Often times in these simulational shows of the present moment under police protection, the arrested individuals might have had it coming, but there are equally a number of cases where it is not so clear if the arrest was warranted or not.

The Jefferson Memorial arrests are an example not so much of decorum, but of lowly Park Rangers with a bellyful of power who don’t like to see people doing things inexplicable in their worldview. The courts sided with these police, because I assume that the judge likewise thinks that free speech should stop at the very monuments erected to celebrate those freedoms.

I have never been arrested, but I have been in a number of confrontations with police officers who have accused me of various infractions of the law–none of which were true. I have been yelled at and called a liar (when I was 16 in Brunswick, GA) and I have had my person and car searched on the basis of dubious results of a K-9 dog walk around (when I was 25 in Atlanta, GA and when I was 31 in Kent, OH). Despite these egregious affronts to my personal rights notwithstanding the fact that I abide by the law, I do my best to cooperate and be non-confrontational, because I do not want to cool my heels in lock-up. However, this does not mean that everyone should always shut-up in the face of questionable authorities.

I respect these nonviolent protestors in the video above for their courage in the face of a violent display of governmental authority–even at the mundane level of the “protection” of public monuments and bystanders in our nation’s capital. Certainly, the RT American anchor has his own motivations in doing something to provoke the response of American authorities. Nevertheless, he does these stunts to demonstrate that the myths of America are just that: myths that we try to cling to despite the gaping holes.

Some of the folks in the video are pummeled for their antics as the rangers attempt to maintain their control of the situation. The Rangers go so far as to assert their control over the monument as if they were waging a campaign of capture the flag by closing the Jefferson Memorial and running off bystanders and especially those persons with cameras.

The average person today seems to be getting it both ways in ever increasing ways from the assertions of political authorities as well as from the entitlements of corporations via legal rights and enforcement. Certainly, many folks must see the erosion of personal rights and autonomy as a bad thing, but the most depressing aspect of the current trend is the lack of imaginative possibilities to challenge and correct the system in the favor of individuals.

Two great places to begin broadening the imaginative possibilities is first: Strange Love: Or How We Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Market by Robin Truth Goodman and Kenneth J. Saltman. In this book, the authors argue that transnational capital and big corporations are the enemy to individuals, and we can fight back against them by electing people to government who stand for people rather than big business. Second, I highly recommend Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy of Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars. KSR demonstrates through these near-future science fiction novels the utopian possibilities of thinking and practicing government after recognizing the interpenetration of politics and economics.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.