DC Police Arrest Dancing Libertarians

A bunch of DC area libertarians apparently decided to celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s birthday by congregating at his memorial at midnight and dancing to the sounds of their iPods for ten minutes. No, I don’t get it either.

At any rate, as Julian Sanchez and Radley Balko report, the constabulary showed up, ordered everyone to move along, and arrested a young woman for asking why on charges of “disorderly conduct.”

Radley, who arrived on scene after the incident, reports,

DC Police Arrest Dancing Libertarians Photo The people I spoke with say the other officer pictured in the foreground of this photo told the rest of the group to “shut the F- up.” When one person politely asked why it was unnecessary to use the word “F-,” the officer replied that if the guy who asked the question used any more profanity, he too would find himself arrested.

There’s no doubt more to this than meets the eye. But these are known facts: The Jefferson Memorial is open 24/7/365. It’s free to the public. It tends not to be particularly crowded at midnight, even on Saturday nights. There are no residential areas nearby.

Now, there are some strange rules. For example, professional wedding photography is essentially forbidden. Maybe there’s a restriction on pre-staged gatherings, even relatively small ones, without a permit. The Park Police may have, therefore, had a reason for telling these people to move on. Then again, I’m with Megan McArdle in thinking there are probably better uses for police manpower at midnight in DC.

Regardless, I’m concerned with the increasing friction between ordinary citizens and the police. The days when the police spoke to the general public — whom they are paid to serve — with polite deference are long gone. Instead, most have adopted a bullying attitude and demand to be treated with unearned deference. We’ve gone from Joe Friday and Andy Taylor to “Cops” and “The Wire.”

The latter, incidentally, is a terrific show that my wife and I are now catching up on via DVD. The series, which depicts the Baltimore Police Department as consisting almost entirely of thugs, reprobates, and incompetents, is apparently a big hit with police officers themselves. Indeed, former Baltimore Police Chief Ed Norris calls the show “the most realistic police drama I’ve ever seen.” That, folks, ain’t a good thing.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anthony says:

    May I – as a Brit – ask a quick question? When did the trend develop among American police of referring to the public as “civilians”? I know it’s a small thing, but I think there are some disturbing undertones to it, as it seems to fundamentally misrepresent the proper relationship between the police and the community they live in and serve. I also don’t think the quasi-military thing implicit in contrasting the public as “civilians” is either coincidental or a good thing.

    It’s a trend that seems to be spreading to the UK, which is also worrying.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I also don’t think the quasi-military thing implicit in contrasting the public as “civilians” is either coincidental or a good thing.

    American police have had a quasi-military character for decades. They’ve adopted military-style uniforms, military rank insignia, military protocol, military customs and courtesies, and the like. Historically, although perhaps not so much nowadays, cops tended to have prior military experience.

  3. Patrick T McGuire says:

    The days when the police spoke to the general public — whom they are paid to serve — with polite deference are long gone.

    That’s not necessarily true of all police. In areas where there is a high rate of licensed concealed carry permits, they still tend to be very polite. I know from personal experience.

    Hmmmm… I wonder if there is some kind of conclusion to be drawn from this?

  4. Bithead says:

    Well, the last time I was in the DC area, I was warned to stay out of the monument area at night, particularly in the wee hours. Something of a war zone mentality had settled in on the place, even then. I can’t imagine it’s changed much in that regard. Could this have something to do with the response?

  5. floyd says:

    What used to be “Police Protection” is now “Law Enforcement”
    What used to be the “Police Department” is now “The Law Enforcement Center”
    The Courthouse in the town square used to have a large front door on each of four sides to symbolize free access to our government. Now it’s a single “gauntlet”with a “siege mentality” sporting guards and metal detectors.
    Down at the “Law Enforcement Center” there is no public access at all , just an John stall sized entry with bullet proof glass and an intercom , a real sanctuary!
    “Buffalo Springfield” never thought it would be this bad.

  6. DL says:

    I watch COPs -vicariously -(My wife’s favorite show) I do admit after repeatedly hearing a cop order some thug to “Show me you hands” to no avail, shout “shoot him” at the screen.

  7. John Burgess says:

    While I certainly don’t begrudge metal detectors at court houses or even police stations (still call them that in my neck of the woods), I do object to some police trying to draw a line between them and us. Police, notwithstanding prior experience, are also civilians. If one tries to tell me differently, I ask about posse comitatus. I also ask to whom they report at the DoD.

    They may need to be reminded of that by a mayor, a policeman, or another tax paying civilian.

  8. FamousDC says:

    Note to self: Do NOT go dancing at Jefferson Memorial with 20 of your closest friends…at midnight.

  9. ClintJCL says:

    Hey FamousDC: Either grow some balls, or leave the country. Taxpayers funded the memorial, which is open 24/7/365. That means any taxpayer can go there any time. The first amendment guarantees right to peaceful assembly, and that’s exactly what this was.

    If the police oppress someone’s rights in a situation, and your only answer is “don’t do that”, then you belong in China, not America. Please turn in your passport and denounce your citizenchip if you are not willing to stand up for the rights that your forefathers died for.

  10. Brian says:

    I do object to some police trying to draw a line between them and us

    Remember that citizens of this country, particularly, have always had the same mentality. How many times in the normal course of a day do you hear someone say, “uh oh, cops” or “cop” with disdain or distrust (even though they are not at all affiliated with the criminal element)? I hear it all the time. Hell, I say it all the time. And I am a cop!

    I think that the US’s unique history lends itself to government mistrust and cops are just the most recognizable symbol of the government(next to members of congress maybe), as well as the most available.

    As for the politeness issue, the nature of police work is highly negative and physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining. Even more-so than military work. Because it never ends and an enemy one day, is a friend the next. Or mostly, not an enemy at all. But it’s difficult to look at someone with suspicion, suspect they have intent to harm you, because they curse at you, sneer at you, always outnumber you, yet smile and make them feel warm and fuzzy. I try hard to do it, don’t condone disrespect towards citizens, treat my job as customer service, but understand completely when others say the wrong thing.

    I do agree however, that there has been a significant shift in the attitude of the police in recent decades. Most of that has to do with the implementation of the drug war and the training required to fight it. De-criminalize most drugs, and you solve lots of problems. The SWAT programs/mentality across the country are borne of the drug war. Rarely used otherwise. But it’s not the police’s fault. They don’t write the laws, they just enforce. Much as we shouldn’t blame defense attorneys for getting guilty clients off. It’s good that the system works per design. But if there’s a design flaw, our legislators should go to work to fix it.

    Instead, most have adopted a bullying attitude and demand to be treated with unearned deference. We’ve gone from Joe Friday and Andy Taylor to “Cops” and “The Wire.”

    Cops have always, always had a bullying attitude. As a whole. Perhaps, James, your personal childhood experiences seemed different than your adult ones (how do cops treat children differently than adults?), but think about. Officer’s were corrupt as hell and always expected deference. Now, we won’t accept free cups of coffee that were once “expected” of shopkeepers.(A good thing.) Andy Taylor may have once let Otis sleep off his drunkeness in the cell without charging him, but do that now and the police pay dearly for kidnapping or unlawfully suspending a writ of habeous corpus, if he’s there over the weekend. Or sued because Otis didn’t get his 100 proof butt quite sober enough to drive and killed Floyd on his way home! I don’t mean to be a jerk, but things always seem better “back then,” but its just not the case. The Wire no more reflects the reality of policework then Andy Taylor reflect life in the past. The only difference is the the television market, the FCC, and the change of societal norms. If Andy Taylor would have been able to show his naked butt while muttering “shit” he would have.

    In my experience, there are a lot of Joe Fridays out there who mostly go unnoticed. Unfortunately, there is a big percentage, not a majority, but a good slice of buttheads too. But, remember that law enforcement will always attract type ‘A’ personalities. Those who aren’t get weeded out really quickly because they simply cannot do the job. It is not for weak of heart. So keep that in mind.

    I don’t know all of the rules at the Mall but it didn’t sound like any of these folks were brutalized. Just got their feelings hurt. If they didn’t break any of the rules, they should have been allowed to stay. But, as a citizen, that sort of very unusual behavior SHOULD be checked into. If that sort of thing happened even monthly, it probably would never had been an issue. And I’m sure Ms. Disorderly didn’t get charged for just asking “why.” Disorderly in almost every jurisdiction I’m aware of is not arrested on lightly precisely because it has been abused as a “catch all.” In most cases, it requires, per policy, a third-party complainant. But what do I know? I could be wrong. I don’t know all of the facts of the case.

    For the record, I am a registered Libertarian.

  11. gr says:

    “The days when the police spoke to the general public — whom they are paid to serve — with polite deference are long gone”

    I don’t think this ever really existed.

  12. Susan says:

    ClintJCL: I think FamousDC was making more of a sarcastic comment than a surrender statement.