Here’s a hypothetical for you.
Let’s say you’re a police officer in Miami Beach. Your beaches are still closed even though most of the rest of Florida’s beaches are still open. Needless to say, you’re facing some protests.
When it comes to protesters, you don’t want to send the wrong message: You’re not heavy-handed, you just want to enforce the law. So how do you approach the case of a woman who’s flopped herself down on a closed beach with a sign saying “We Are Free” and refuses to leave?
If your choice is to send a handful of police officers out there to force her to leave and then carry her prone body off of the beach when she refuses, I’d argue you made the wrong choice. But then, I’m not a member of the Miami-Dade Police Department, who made that choice over the weekend.
According to WTVJ, Kimberly Falkenstine, 33, was arrested by four police officers after she entered the beach as part of a coronavirus lockdown protest Sunday. Falkenstine was part of a protest that started in nearby Lummus Park, although she broke off to protest on the shoreline.
“The defendant stated she left the designated protest area and wanted to sit on the beach to make a statement,” a police report said.
According to the report, four officers went out to inform her that she was in violation of the emergency lockdown order. They told her to leave, but she refused.
“The defendant mentioned that the beach was for the public and that it was her right to be there,” the report said. She now faces charges of violating an emergency order, resisting an officer without violence and trespassing. She was booked into jail and released on $2,500 bail.
This is a very just-the-facts, inverted-pyramid-style way of reporting the encounter, however. It doesn’t hammer home just how farcical and counterproductive the whole thing was.
Here’s the full livestream video, posted by fellow protester Chris Nelson. The arrest itself begins around the 28:00 mark:
There’s nothing that looks like the overuse of force quite like four men carrying a lockdown protester off of the beach even though she was posing no danger to anyone. This is especially true when she’s on the beach, where the coronavirus is unlikely to spread.
One of the great canards used against lockdown protesters is that these are usually people who would be telling other protesters to respect police authority — particularly if they were liberal protesters violating the law.
The same thing could be turned around, though: Those cheering on the arrest of lockdown protesters are usually those who would frown upon an excessive display of police authority.
The question, in the end, is one of proportionality. If a single liberal protester were to rip through some fluorescent orange tape, plop themselves in the sand on a closed beach and tell police officers that they’d have to drag her off of there, at what point would anyone want to see them arrested? Wouldn’t you assume that’s what they wanted you to do when they went through the barriers in the first place?
Instead, this woman’s forcible removal from the beach was livestreamed on Facebook and has gotten play in not just local media but outlets like the Washington Times, the U.K. Daily Mail and the New York Daily News. Nice work.
Beyond the self-defeating aspect of the arrest, however, is how it focused attention on the disproportionate use of force in lockdown enforcement. This was a wretchedly ugly moment that could only be cheered on by the kind of people who believe that, by singling out a single protester on a beach, what they’re doing is right and good.
In a much different way, this is what resonated about the story of Shelley Luther, the Dallas salon owner who opened her shop before the state had given the go-ahead.
Appearing before the judge, Luther was told she could avoid jail if she were to “acknowledge that your own actions were selfish, putting your own interest ahead of those in the community in which you live.”
Instead of doing that, she said that feeding her kids or keeping her employees paid wasn’t selfish. She went to jail for it — and became a folk hero in the process.
No, this isn’t quite that. It’s still a potent example of why people chafe at the enforcement of lockdown orders. This was hardly what most people thought they were signing on for at the beginning of the process.
So, in short: If you’re a police officer in Miami Beach, I know people breaking the law is hardly an ideal situation, but neither is the maintenance of overly broad lockdown orders which, at least in the case of the closing of beaches, have outlived their purpose. Using four officers to arrest someone with a sign that says “We Are Free” is a rejoinder which, in return, forcefully tells everyone: “No, You’re Not.” That’s no way to maintain order and respect for the law, lockdown or no lockdown.
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