Sunday, January 7, 2007

Eminent Historian gets First-Hand Look at U.S. Justice System: The Extraordinary Jaywalking Arrest at AHA

At the American Historical Association Annual Meeting, held at multiple hotels in Atlanta this past weekend, a distinguished historian was arrested after jaywalking to cross the street from one conference hotel to another. This did not result in a simple ticket, but handcuffs, a paddy-wagon, and hours in jail trying to make bond. Here's the report from History News Network:

On Friday the Tufts historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto was arrested by Atlanta police as he crossed the middle of the street between the Hilton and Hyatt hotels. After being thrown on the ground and handcuffed, the former Oxford don was formally arrested, his hands cuffed behind his back. Several policemen pressed hard on his neck and chest, leaving the mild-mannered scholar, who's never gotten so much as a parking ticket, bruised and in pain. He was then taken to the city detention center along with other accused felons and thrown into a filthy jail cell filled with prisoners. He remained incarcerated for eight hours. Officials demanded bail of over a thousand dollars. To come up up with the money Fernandez-Armesto, the author of nineteen books, had to make an arrangement with a bail bondsman. In court even the prosecutors seemed embarrassed by the incident, which got out of hand when Fernandez-Armesto requested to see the policeman's identification (the policeman was wearing a bomber jacket; to Fernandez-Armesto, a foreigner unfamiliar with American culture, the officer did not look like an officer). The prosecutors asked the professor to plead nolo contendere. He refused, concerned that the stain on his record might put his green card status in jeopardy. Officials finally agreed to drop all charges. The judge expressed his approval. The professor says he has no plans to sue. But the AHA council is considering lodging a complaint with the city.

An interview with Professor Fernandez-Armesto, made by HNN, is posted on YouTube. (It is divided into three parts. Part 2 is here, and 3 is here.)

The photo of the arrest, and his interview, provide a striking illustration of police (mis)conduct.