Do you remember the case of the young girl who put a single french fry in her mouth as she entered the Washington, DC, Metro, and found herself handcuffed and arrested? Here’s the story as told by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit:
Ansche had stopped at a fast-food restaurant on the way and ordered a bag of french fries—to go. While waiting for her companion to purchase a fare-card, Ansche removed and ate a french fry from the take-out bag she was holding. After proceeding through the fare-gate, Ansche was stopped by a plainclothed Metro Transit Police officer, who identified himself and informed her that he was arresting her for eating in the Metrorail station. The officer then handcuffed Ansche behind her back while another officer searched her and her backpack. … Ansche was transported to the District of Columbia’s Juvenile Processing Center some distance away, where she was fingerprinted and processed before being released into the custody of her mother three hours later.
Ansche sued but lost her case. This story and more are featured in the new book One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. It appears to be a good companion volume to Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent by Harvey Silverglate, Co-founder of FIRE and Chairman of FIRE’s Board of Directors.
Harvey has explained quite well how campus speech codes are related to abuses of the criminal justice system off campus. Indeed, FIRE certainly knows how vague and overbroad speech restrictions are used to crack down on expression that campus administrators do not like.
Journalist and columnist John Stossel juxtaposes these topics, too, in his latest column for Townhall.com, “Attacks on Freedom.” Stossel brings attention both to the french fry villain and to FIRE’s case at IUPUI, where a student-employee was found guilty of racial harassment for reading a book. (See this video about the case.) Stossel writes:
Keith John Sampson, a student-employee at Indiana-Purdue University Indianapolis, had the temerity to read “Notre Dame Versus the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan” during breaks on the job. One student complained because the book’s cover depicted the Klan. The university then found Sampson guilty of racial harassment! Thankfully, a great organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), came to his defense and got his school record cleared.
Stossel sees cases like these as examples of over-regulation by administrative officials:
Congress creates, on average, one new crime every week. Federal agencies create thousands more—so many, in fact that the Congressional Research Service itself said that merely counting them would be impossible.
This statement fits well with what FIRE sees in the college and university context, where vast armies of redundant administrators, needing to justify their positions, enact more and more regulations to police the speech and conduct of their adult students. Thanks to Harvey and John Stossel for keeping the public informed.